Flagbearer of Indian gymnastics: The rise and rise of Pranati Nayak
En route to the Asian Games, Nayak could not have asked for a better preparation. She won a bronze medal at the FIG World Challenge Cup. She also pipped her illustrious compatriot Dipa Karmakar to emerge as the face of Indian gymnastics.
Gymnastics has not been India's forte on the world stage. But since Dipa Karmakar made a historic fourth-place finish at the Rio Olympics in 2016, the sport has received a huge boost in the country.
After the Rio Olympics, when Dipa became a household name, gymnastics in India saw new contestants making their way into the international arena.
One of the most promising names after Dipa appeared in the circuit is Pranati Nayak of West Bengal.
The 28-year-old from Jhargram is only the second Indian gymnast to represent the country at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2021.
As Dipa found herself out of favour, Nayak, a vault specialist, will be India's lone competitor in gymnastics at the Asian Games in Hangzhou.
Emergence of Nayak
With just two weeks to go for the Asiad, Nayak has made the right noise by winning a bronze medal at the FIG World Challenge Cup. She is the third Indian to win a medal on the international stage after Dipa and Aruna Reddy.
Nayak, who is under pressure being India's lone gymnast at the continental showpiece event, could not have asked for a better preparation for the Games. En route to her commendable performance, Nayak pipped her illustrious compatriot Dipa in the qualification round to emerge as Indian gymnastics' face and a medal hope at the quadrennial event.
Nayak, who trains at the Gymnastics High-Performance Centre in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, under Ashok Mishra, has been a regular face in Indian gymnastics since 2014. But she struggled to carve out a niche for herself in the already congested scene of Indian gymnastics, figuring names like Dipa, Mandira Chowdhury, Pranati Das and Payel Bhattacharjee. Nayak's first notable performance came at the 2018 World Cup in Melbourne, where she finished sixth.
Gradually, she rose through the ranks with steady improvement and became an integral member of India's 2018 Asian Games contingent. At the Jakarta Asiad four years ago, Nayak, featuring in the women's team event along with Dipa, finished seventh in the final. On the individual front, she made an eighth-place finish in the vault final.
Hogging the limelight
Yet, her effort to rise from the tumult and hog the limelight was still a year away. Eventually, at the 2019 Indian Championships, Nayak basked in the national glory by winning the all-round gold medal.
She did not look back since then. Nayak would soon carry on her national championship momentum at the continental level and win a bronze medal in the vault final at the Asian Championships. By attaining the feat, Nayak became only the third Indian after Dipa and Aruna to win a vault medal at a major international event.
Even though Nayak had a forgettable outing at the Tokyo Olympics, where she could not make the final, she quickly emerged as India's most renowned face in gymnastics, exploiting Dipa's absence from the field. Nayak would win the continental bronze again in 2022. Ahead of the Asian Games in China, she was preferred before Dipa since she competed regularly in international meets. And the faith sports ministry shown on Nayak paid dividends. Emphasising that she is on the right track, Nayak bagged the bronze medal in Hungary on her debut World Cup and hogged the limelight.
Early in September, Nayak performed a Tsukahara Straight 360 with a fixed landing to earn 13.066 points, and the second vault earned her 12.866. With an average score of 12.866, the Indian gymnast was tied with Greece's Athanasia Mesiri for third place. But because of Nayak's better vault score of 13.066 than Mesiri's 13.000, she won the bronze medal at the FIG World Challenge Cup, which made her 'confident of doing well at the Asian Games'.