As MC Mary Kom carries Indian hopes to the London ring, Anuj Kumar speaks to the champion pugilist
Male domination is part of every social narrative about India, but as the London Olympics begin this Friday it is our female athletes who are proving to be the beacons of hope. Saina Nehwal, Sania Mirza, Deepika Kumari and MC Mary Kom — all four stand a realistic chance of winning a medal in their respective disciplines. Not to forget an Annu Raj Singh or Krishna Poonia, who can surprise with a bit of the rub of the green.
“We have what it takes to perform at the international stage,” says MC Mary Kom, the only Indian female boxer who has qualified for the London Olympics. This time female boxing is making its debut in the Olympics as a medal sport and the five-time world boxing champion has upped the ante by changing her weight category from 48 kg to 51 kg, because in the Olympics there are only three weight categories in female boxing starting from 48 kg. “48 kg would have been easy for me as now I have to prove myself all over again. Not many people know that I am a five-time world champion. I hope an Olympic medal will change that,” says the Manipuri girl, who is popularly called Magnificent Mary. The transition has not be seen easy because she lost in the qualifiers and got through only because Nicola Adams, the girl who beat her, went on to reach the finals. Talking about the competition in London, Mary says anybody who has qualified for the Olympics will pose a challenge. “I am confident of gold. Pray for me and for the entire contingent. We could return with our best performance in the Olympics.”
Coming from a family of very modest means, Mary’s parents used to work in jhum fields. Manipur has a matriarchal society and is considered liberal when it comes to allowing women to compete in sports. Mary agrees but then boxing was just too out of the box. “When I started in 2000, boxing was considered a sport where only boys participate.” She used to play football but Dingko Singh’s success and Laila Ali’s glamour hooked her. “When I showed my interest, I was laughed at. There were no girls to compete against. I had to knock out a number of boys in the ring to earn respect.” But the respect was limited to the arena. In the society, in the lanes leading to her home, she was talked about in hushed tones. “My mother ensured that I don’t get to hear all those comments and focus on my game. It is because of her that I am here.”
Acknowledging Akham Kom’s efforts in shaping a champion, corporate house P&G, which is an official sponsor of the London Olympics, is sponsoring her trip to London along with Mary’s husband Onler as part of its “Thank You Mom” campaign. After her mother, Mary says, she owes her career to her husband. “Usually in our country sportswoman retire after marriage. He allowed me to continue and made sacrifices so that I can box.”
After motherhood, a woman loses a lot of her natural energy and it takes time to replenish. A mother of twins, Mary Kom agrees. “In my case it was all the more difficult because I had a caesarean delivery. I was out of the game for two years and it took me one year to recover. But I think it is more about will power and family support and I got plenty of both.” Boxing demands a certain aggression but you don’t expect anger from a mother. Mary Kom says we are mistaken. “Once I enter the ring I am very angry!” she laughs. “But boxing is not just about being angry,” she clarifies adding, in contact sports one has to channelize the anger. “Boxing is about coming up with new ideas. At times you have to control aggression and at times you need to go all out.”