Mary still going strong

Mary still going strong

Mary Kom does not believe in giving up. When most assumed she had retired, the feisty boxer was sharpening her punches in the national camp in January. By November, the 34-year-old had added to her stacked cabinet a fifth Asian Championships gold medal in Vietnam. It mattered little she had not competed in over a year and was busy wearing several hats, including that of a Rajya Sabha MP.

But still, "Magnificent Mary" could pull out the will and the means to box her way to glory. Her last competition was World Championships in May where her dreams of second Olympics participation were crushed. But Mary dusted off the disappointment with the same determination she brings to the boxing ring.

The transition to 51 kg from her preferred 46-48kg weight category, where she won most of her medals including Word Championships titles, had never quite suited her. She, however, bagged 2012 Olympic bronze in the 51 kg after the 48 kg category was not included in the Games. But Mary is a natural 48 kg fighter and gaining three more had added to her challenge. She decided to return to 48kg, though it still has not found a place in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Asian Games. It, however, was part of Asian Championships and also 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast next year. Mary has obviously set her sight on that.

Mary's journey to gold in Vietnam reaffirmed her liking for her preferred weight category. Asked if she felt nervous while making a comeback after nearly five years in 48 kg, Mary quickly countered, albeit with a grin. "Nervous? What nervous? I had already trained in good way. I have told in the past also if I am fit nobody can touch me or beat me easily, that is the confidence I have. Only if I am not training then something can happen," Mary said on her return.

"I am very happy I got all the support I needed and I could make my country proud."

Like all champion athletes, Mary too has a knack of making things look simple. She insisted her return to 48 kg was not difficult. "The comeback was not so challenging. I already know the 48 kg category. I have been five-time World Champion in this, have played continuously in various competitions and Games and won medals. It was easy," she shrugged.

"I have an experience of 15-16 years, and that came very handy. In the first round, boxers have three-minute fight. If I could get the measure of my opponent in the first one minute or 30 seconds, then everything is easy. if I am not able to figure out how she is fighting then it gets a bit tough. But no matter what happens, I stay calm and enjoy myself. Why take unnecessary stress or frustration? Whether I win or lose is a different matter. In my training also I am like this. I listen to music, freshen up my mind, and make it fun."

Mary, however, acknowledged the improvement in world boxing standards. "The level of boxing has gone up. Even 48 kg is tough. Physically I have not faced much problem except the soreness. But the physio has taken good care of that. The boxers have all changed, the current ones are smart and clever. You find opponents some of whom are of equal height, some are taller than me," she said.

"My coach always pushed me to train with taller and heavier boxers of 54 kg category, even 57 kg. That was very helpful. It is difficult to catch up with taller boxers. When we fight the taller boxer, it is all about how we can have the control, the ring craft, different techniques, and tactic etc. Also, since I had the experience of fighting in the 51 kg, I could handle things in the ring."

Training, too, exacted a lot out of her. Besides being a mother to three boys, Mary is a Member of Parliament, a national observer, runs her own academy in Imphal and is an athlete commission member of IOC. How tough was managing everything?

"Too painful!," she said and continued, "I would reach for training at 6 am and finish at 8 am. Then I would rush to have shower and breakfast, before going to the Parliament. Then again I would go to the stadium in the evening to train. Thank God I didn't get hurt or fall sick because then it would have been difficult.

"I took my training seriously. When there was a personal or official function or I would have two sessions of training every day. If I missed morning session, then I would ensure I train in evening for 40-45 min, I never missed that. I know my body and for me everything depends on my fitness."

Mary takes special interest in mentoring the youngsters and finds them talented. "I went to youth trial as an observer. The kids are very talented. One or two performed very well. I felt very happy. In elite boxing, still the old pattern of playing is continuing. In youth, girls are intelligent, they are playing smartly. They should do well in future."

Mary, though, stresses on having a fearless approach. "I tell this to my girls also when playing with strong countries. I have seen many a time people will come to me and say 'Mary I am playing with China or Kazak boxer.' They decide beforehand that they are not winning the bout. I had my first fight against the host country. Anything can happen when you play against the host country. Then they would ask me, 'how will you do it?' I would say, 'arrey, we will see in the ring! That is not the matter of worry of you. I will take care of it and handle it.' I have always been like this from the beginning.

"We will have to push the youth. When I get time I will chat with them and motivate them, I am sure they will turn out to be medal prospects in the future."

With AIBA women's World Youth Championships all set to be hosted by Guwahati (November 19-26), Mary sees it as a wonderful opportunity for the young boxers. "We are hosting world championships after a long gap, the last we hosted was in 2006. For our upcoming players, I think it is a very good opportunity to win medal. Outside the country anything can happen, but we have advantage when we are the hosts. The competition is getting tougher and tougher. But if we win gold, it will be historic."

The question about her prospects in 2020 Olympics has evoked a cautious response. "My next goal is 2014 Commonwealth Games. For Olympics it is too early to say.

"If the 48 kg category is there, then yes. But even if it is not there, I will try my best to qualify in 51 kg. You see, I always try my best. Rest I leave it to God," she said.

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