On this day: Mary Kom wins bronze at 2012 London Olympics

Mary Kom had won most of her titles in the 46 kg and 48 kg divisions, but in London, she was adapting to the demands of the 51 kg category.

Mary Kom on the podium during the medal ceremony at the 2012 London Olympics.   -  PTI Photo

She is an inspiration. Young Indian sportspersons will do well to imbibe a few lessons from the brilliant career of Mary Kom, who defied the odds, went with the flow when required and realised her dream of winning an Olympic medal.

The five-time world women’s boxing champion was past her prime and she was up against some of the strongest contenders coming down from higher weight categories. In a way, Mary's reputation worked against her, as her opponents knew of her ability and were well prepared to tackle the Indian.

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Women’s boxing was making its debut at the Olympics, but there were only three weight categories and 36 boxers in all. Mary had won most of her titles in the 46 kg and 48 kg divisions, but in London, she was adapting to the demands of the 51 kg category.

The lucky ones — who had a bye in the first round — needed to win only one bout to ensure a medal. But for Mary, it wasn’t easy. She had to win two bouts to ensure a medal, and she was prepared.

THE 29-YEAR-OLD BOXER from Manipur celebrated the fifth birthday of her twin sons, as only a proud mother can, by scoring a resounding 19-14 victory against the former world champion in the 54 kg category, Karolina Michalczuk of Poland, in her opening bout.

MARY’S NEXT OPPONENT was relatively weak and she ensured a bronze medal by outclassing Maroua Rahali of Tunisia 16-6. Significantly enough, it was India’s only medal from boxing for which the nation had sent an eight member team of which seven were men.

Mary did promise to win more than a bronze but her opponent in the semifinals, Nicola Adams of Britain, the eventual champion, proved too good, winning 11-6.

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Nicola had beaten Mary by a two-point margin in the quarterfinals of the last World Championship in China. The Indian, however, owed her qualification to the London Olympics to Nicola who had reached the final in the World Championship. Nicola’s performance in China meant that the second Asian quota went to the Indian behind the World Champion Ren Cancan.

NICOLA HAD THE HIGHEST respect for Mary and she expected a tough bout. “I am going to have height and reach. I am going to use all my attributes,” said the Briton.

In the semifinals, Nicola did as she said — she kept Mary at arm’s length and punched sharply to get on top of the Indian. Nicola not only beat Mary but also her nemesis Ren Cancan who had beaten her in two World Championship finals. There was no shame for Mary though, as she lost to a superior boxer.

“I am sorry I could not win the gold medal. But I am happy with the Olympic medal that has been a dream for long,” said Mary.

WORLD CHAMPION REN CANCAN said after her loss to Nicola in the final that she had no regret as she was beaten by an “excellent boxer”. It has been a long and arduous journey for Mary. She has been missing her family and children owing to the long training camps.

Mary has set the ball rolling, and it will be for the young generation to carry on the good work.

Badminton ace Saina Nehwal has been right up there with the very best in the world, but she could not get past the ‘China Wall’ and had to settle for the bronze. However, Saina and Mary should inspire a whole lot of girls to take sports seriously and pursue their dreams.

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Despite all the encouragement and financial support for better training, planning and coaching, Indian women could only win one Olympic berth in boxing. This gives a strong indication that women’s boxing could go the way women’s weightlifting did after it was introduced at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. After Karnam Malleswari won the bronze medal in Sydney, India hasn’t had another potential medal winner in women’s weightlifting.

The fact that seven competent boxers, including two Asian Games champions, could not carry on the good work of Vijender Singh, who had won the first medal for India in boxing at the Beijing Olympics, should provide a hint about the intensity of the sport. Even the Americans went without a boxing medal for the first time in London.

It is pertinent here to recall the prophetic words of the chief coach, Gurbax Singh Sandhu, before the Games began.

“MARY KOM’S MEDAL would be a huge morale booster for Indian boxing in general and women’s boxing in particular. Mary would gain a lot from the medal, but India would gain even more. Women’s boxing in India would definitely grow with the medal,” he had said.

Not just boxing, Indian women’s sport in general will grow manifold.

(This article was first published in Sportstar's issue of Aug. 25, 2012)