As Mary Kom serenaded Ingrit Valencia after a hard-fought encounter in the Kokugikan Arena, memories seem to flood out of her eyes. She betrayed the tears with a broad smile, but even her irrepressible spirit may no longer be enough to afford the legendary Indian another shot at Olympic glory. Her expressions invited much praise, as netizens applauded her graciousness in defeat. It turns out, Mary thought she had won.
Soon after Mary made her exit from the ring in Tokyo, confusion reigned. The judges presented a narrow 3-2 verdict for the Colombian, even though a majority scored the final two rounds in the Indian’s favour. There were reports that Mary Kom was considering a formal protest over the decision, seeking a review. It remains unclear, if that is even a possibility anymore.
At just 5ft 2", Magnificent Mary looks deceptively short. But she towers over the amateur boxing world, not just in India, as an unmatched goliath. If there wasn’t a fairytale ending to her storied career, it was just as well. Perhaps, Mary Kom was never meant to be in a fairytale. Ever since her switch to boxing as a curious teenager stoked by the 1998 Asian Games heroics of Dingko Singh, Mary has been authoring a near mythical epic of endurance.
As a child at school, Mary took to athletics. Perhaps, if she remained a runner, no hurdle may have never been high enough for the woman from Manipur. Her palms turned coarse long before she dissolved into sport. Mary strained her muscles in the fields, lending a hand to her parents, tenant farmers in the remote Manipuri village of Kangathei. Neither the hardship in the fields nor the family struggles did much to dull her spirit.
Surprising..can anyone explain what will be a ring dress. I was ask to change my ring dress just a minute before my pre qtr bout can anyone explain. @PMOIndia @ianuragthakur @KirenRijiju @iocmedia @Olympics pic.twitter.com/b3nwPXSdl1
— M C Mary Kom OLY (@MangteC) July 30, 2021
During her early days as a boxer, Mary pursued her dreams without the knowledge of her father. He had to learn from the newspaper that his daughter was the state champion. It would take him three full years after that to embrace the passion of his eldest child. By then, Mary turned world champion, as a 19-year-old pinweight (45kg) in the 2002 AIBA Women’s World Championship.
After amassing seven more gold medals at various events, punctuated by her marriage to Karung Onkholer (Onler) in 2005, it appeared that Mary’s trajectory as a champion was flowing like a river, despite the odd rocky bump. But when life wasn’t making it hard enough on the young boxer, it appeared that she decided to turn up the difficulty level for herself. Mary Kom and Onler decided to have children and the boxer took a sabbatical to embrace motherhood.
But after having twins in 2007, Rechungvar and Khupneivar, the boxer’s knuckles started to itch again. And after a strong regimen of fitness and strength, Mary Kom made a thundering return to the ring. She captured gold in the AIBA Women’s World Championship for a fifth time in 2008.
It is a tribute to the Manipuri’s ‘can-do’ attitude that she moved up to the 51kg flyweight category with a steely determination to gain a spot in the Olympics in London. She prepared for it winning the bronze medal in the 2010 Asian Games before repeating the feat in London two years later on the Olympic podium.
No hurdle is tall enough for this diminutive boxer from Manipur.
Never one to be satisfied, Mary Kom has made a fine habit of moving her goal post constantly. It is this quest for constant challenge and steady improvement that constantly brings us back to the table discussing this ageless wonder. Mary Kom does not seem to strain from boxing in the ring or dreaming out of it.
She had her third child Prince in 2013, a reward perhaps for winning bronze in London. The young infant wouldn’t stand in her way, just as his twin brothers weren’t in 2007. Gold at the Asian Games in 2014 must have been affirmative, as she finally emulated the hero that inspired her into boxing. But then, the determined boxer isn’t an ordinary human being.
If there was one chapter missing in this epic story, it was one that threatened to take the boxing out of an indefatigable Mary Kom. As she advanced in the years, younger opponents started to challenge the legend, often upending her from a throne she protected with a zealous passion.
Mary Kom endured the most prolonged slump of her career when she suffered during the phase that followed the 2014 Asian Games. Despite making a gallant effort, she could not find a way to punch a ticket to Rio 2016. Ordinary mortals would have ended their careers a few times already, if they had the luxury of walking in the great woman’s shoes.
Not Mary Kom, no hurdle is too high for her.
Despite the disappointment of not making the Olympics, Mary Kom committed herself to a fresh cycle of preparations as she set her eyes on the square in Tokyo 2020. Once again, she worked mindless hours tuning her ageing body for the rigours of boxing against younger women, many of them younger by a decade or more.
Once again, she would find affirmation and renewed energy with victories in the 2018 Commonwealth Games and a sixth gold medal in the AIBA Women’s World Championship. As she remained relentless in the pursuit of her Olympic dream, it would take a dramatic qualification tussle with Nikhat Zareen to eventually settle the debate and force her way to Tokyo.
The striking hunger and persistence of Mary Kom were burning bright even in the darkness that engulfed Tokyo into the evening. She laid thoughts of retirement to rest with an emphatic promise to continue adding a few more layers to an already transcendental epic. “I have been fighting for 20 years. I’m a mother, I have four kids and have been fighting continuously and achieving much. I will play till I am 40,” she told the media in Tokyo.
Well, if you know her resilient character, you will not bet against her. Not even now.
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