Knocking out life’s uncertainties

Magnificent Mary trains at her residence in Langol village on the outskirts of Imphal.-AP

A demure mother of twin boys, now looked after in Manipur by husband Onler, five-time world women’s champion Mary Kom is like a whiplash on entering the ring. By Nandakumar Marar.

M. C. Mary Kom chose to train in isolation at a secluded Balewadi Sports Complex near Pune, working with personal coach Charles Atkinson, sports scientist Dr Nikhil Laatey and an army of support staff. The rest of the Indian boxing contingent for London Olympics 2012, however, were slogging it out in Patiala.

The nation’s sole woman fighter in London in the 51kg class is used to having her way in the ring with five world titles in the 48kg category in her kitty. The fact that she was granted her space is indicative of her stature in world boxing.

Mary Kom was also able to source sparring partners, juniors from Manipur and female boxers from the Army Sports Institute, to enable her attain peak physical fitness.

“I wish to thank the IABF (Indian boxing body) and the Ministry of Sports for supporting my plan and the Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ) for arranging a foreign coach and the support staff,” said the 29-year-old fighter, now poised for her Olympic debut in London, where women’s boxing makes an entry as a medal sport.

The most intensive phase of preparations involved shifting from Balewadi to Liverpool, a week prior to the Games, accompanied by Atkinson and Laatey. She is quite a package, humility and achievements packed together in her diminutive self.

A demure mother of twin boys, now looked after in Manipur by husband Onler, the five-time world women’s champion is like a whiplash on entering the ring. Atkinson is training her to be an unpredictable fighter and expects her to be a surprise packet even for rivals familiar with her style and method.

Ranked world No. 4 in the 51kg category, as per the list released by the world boxing governing body, AIBA, she is the only multiple world champion representing India in London. However, chasing Olympic dreams has not come in her way of creating a helpline for Manipur youngsters by establishing a boxing academy from her earnings, so that kids inspired by her feats have a starting point. England magazine SportsPro named her among the world’s 50 most marketable athletes of 2012.

Before heading to Liverpool Mary Kom sat for an exclusive chat with Sportstar. Excerpts:

Five-time world champion Mary Kom with her twin sons Rengpa (left) and Nainai.-AP

Question: You decided to prepare individually at Balewadi, far away from national camps, working with a personal foreign coach, young Manipuri boxers as sparring partners, personal trainer and physio. Why?

Answer: I wanted to learn new techniques and tactics from another coach. I had been working with Indian coaches for 10 to 11 years now and wanted to pick up new things because at the Olympics the best women fighters are taking part and will be prepared for me.

Did you ask OGQ for a personal coach or did they bring up the topic?

Both OGQ and I had been discussing this point. They wanted me to train under a new coach and I also wished to train under a foreign coach. They gave me full support for my Olympic preparation, whether training on my own, freedom of choice for sparring partners from Manipur or everything else. OGQ arranged for the support staff. The Sports Ministry also gave me all the support I needed.

What do you look for in rivals once in the ring?

Watching the eyes and observing the body language is useful. By the time the first round is over, I size up my opponent and know what I should be doing in the ring, whether I can have my way or need to put more pressure in the remaining rounds.

You will be taking part in the march past during the Opening Ceremony, behind the Indian flag, in London 2012, in your first Olympics. What does this mean to you?

Taking part in the march past is great for me and will be a historic day for India and my state, Manipur, because in boxing I am the only woman qualifier. I will be giving off my best at the Games. My humble request to Indians watching the Games is to support (me) in (their) prayers.

Dingko Singh is supposed to be your boxing inspiration. Now you are an Olympian, a five-time world champion and owner of many national awards, are you in a position to inspire youngsters in Manipur?

Before Dingko, Muhammad Ali inspired me when I was small. I watched professional bouts and used to watch his style, stance, movement and footwork. Once I took up boxing, Dingko’s success became my motivation. He was famous in Manipur after winning the gold at the Bangkok Asian Games. Regarding inspiring youngsters, I have set up my own academy. I always challenge my students, they are very young. I am a mother, have two kids, a family and my boxing career will be over in the next two or three years. If I can perform at the world level even now, why can’t they with so many years in front of them?

Do you expect more respect on return from London, after Indians see you in the Olympic stage?

Many kids want to take up boxing after getting to know about our international performances. They want to be like Mary Kom, or they want to emulate Vijender Singh.

Do you feel more girls will take up boxing in the near future?

A girl can train for boxing and can still remain feminine. Girls are getting into boxing across India — Bengal, Maharashtra, Kerala, Manipur, Assam, Delhi, Haryana and Punjab for example. Competition is very tough at the Nationals. Boxing is not only a sport but it can also be a self-defence technique for girls.

AIBA named you among three boxing ambassadors in 2009 (Tiffanie Hearn of USA and Anna Laurell of Sweden were the other two). Your comment.

I was happy to make India proud. I come from India and AIBA chose me for the recognition from among the world’s best boxers, gave me the title of ‘Magnificent Mary’. Without India’s support I would not have got there.

You made personal sacrifices for India and raised the nation’s profile in world boxing. Apart from honours like the Khel Ratna, what else do you want India to do for you?

India should look at Manipur’s development. Sports development as well as everything else. I don’t know how to say, but it is very difficult to live in Manipur. We don’t have regular electricity, load-shedding is an every day occurrence, we face water problem, national highways are blocked for long periods due to strikes.

How can youngsters growing up in such conditions realise sporting ambitions?

I am a star in India, but there are many problems troubling me. When my kid was three years old, I was in a national camp in Bhopal. Lactogen was not available in the market back home and I had sent it from Bhopal by courier. Fortunately I have the resources, a job with the Manipur Police and the money to arrange these necessities even when far away from home. But poor families are helpless.

I was at home in Manipur and for two months the national highway was blocked. We could not get gas cylinders for cooking and had to use firewood.

If development takes place and necessities are easily available, many more youngsters will be drawn towards a sporting career and end up making India proud in the international stage. I am humbled by the opportunity to be a part of India’s sporting history in London.