With no certified coach and lack of training centre, 12-year-old Upasha Talukdar taught herself rhythmic gymnast via Skype. She emerged as one of the youngest medallists at the 2020 Khelo India Youth Games. Guwahati girl Upasha succeeded in winning three medals in gymnastics at the recent Khelo India, in a first for Assam The Indian Express reported.
Upasha was inspired to take up gymnastics when she was eight. She learned her routines by watching videos of gymnasts from Ukraine and Russia. “She has always been flexible, twisting and turning and dancing to music. The day I saw her scratching her ear with her toes because her hands were occupied with homework, I decided she was cut out for gymnastics,” her father Nikunja Talukdar, who runs a small pharmacy in the city, told Hindustan Times.
- Rhythmic gymnast Upasha Talukdar won three medals at the recent Khelo India Youth Games in Assam.
- She had no coach or practice hall so Skype sessions, internet and Google Translate helped her master the art.
- Upasha’s training was initially done virtually through Skype, said her father Nikunja Talukdar, who runs a small pharmacy in Guwahati.
Early on Upasha decided to be home-schooled.
“After initially training in artistic gymnastics, one of the coaches told us that Upasha was fit for rhythmic gymnastics — we did not know what that was but we registered,” says Nikunja Talukdar, Upasha’s father. Due to the lack of rhythmic gymnastics coach in Assam, or even the Northeast, the Class VII student Upasha was left with no choice but to take the help of the internet. “For months, she would just while away hours sitting in the corner of the gymnasium waiting for her turn,” says Upasha who initially trained virtually through Skype.
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The internet and google search of ‘rhythmic gymnastics’ led her father to a number of YouTube videos, and that’s how the training in gymnastics started off. “That’s how I learnt the initial exercises,” says Upasha. Her father later took to Facebook as well, to reach out to gymnasts around the world. “The moment I saw someone was a gymnast, I would send a friend request,” he says. And a plea. “I told them that I had a daughter and I needed someone to guide her,” he says.
Upasha found a few coaches online and help came from around the world including France, Russia, Australia Uzbekistan, and Georgia. One of them was a 16-year-old Russian rhythmic gymnast, Olesya, who decided to train Upasha through Skype, and was in awe by her videos and photographs.
She went for a ten-day basic training camp in Punjab. “Those ten days really helped. Having a real coach instead of watching YouTube videos made a big difference. A coach could actually tell me where I was going wrong,” says Upasha, “But I still did not have a routine. We didn’t understand Russian, they did not understand English!” explains Upasha, “But with the help of Google Translate and a very shaky internet connection, we managed.”
Upasha competed in a few national-level junior competitions including the CBSE National Gymnastics (Haryana, 2017), Lakshmibai National Institute of Physical Education games (2018) and the sub-junior games organised by the Gymnastic Federation of India (2018). She won medals in all of them.
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“We never had a proper space to practise,” said her mother Sewali Deka Talukdar, a paediatrician. “Either the hall wasn’t high enough (rhythmic gymnastics requires a high-ceilinged hall since you have to throw a ball), and at other times, it was not free,” she says. “We briefly got one space we liked at the Bhogeswari Phukanani Indoor Stadium but then again, we did not know if it would be free the next day,” said Talukdar.
After Upasha was selected to participate in the 2020 Khelo India Youth Games, Arjuna award-winning gymnast and retired coach Kalpana Debnath helped her to practise in her home in Patiala. “I had never met Upasha but I invited her because even from the videos, I sensed that she had in-born qualities of a world-class gymnast — she is tall, has long arms, long legs, long neck, and is very flexible. However, in-born qualities do not make a champion, training and dedication does. And that is what Upasha needs now,” says Debnath, who hails from Tripura and was a national artistic gymnast in the 1980s.
Upasha says she wants to win a medal at the Olympics. “Of course, there is a long way to go. Many people think rhythmic gymnastics is just a ‘dance’, but it is actually so much more. You need strength, you need balance, you need be flawless — you have to look like you are almost doing magic,” she says.
Feature Image Credit: Khelo India