Interviewing MC Mary Kom can sometimes feel like a bout; one in which, unsurprisingly, she calls the shots.
Mary is in Guwahati, at the India Open, with a point to prove and an improbable goal in mind—that at 36, she is still at the top of her game; and she is still aiming for the Olympics in 2020.
After her sixth world title in 48kg—a weight class she has come to own over a career that has spanned an incredible 17 years—Mary had declared that she wants to keep going, and wants to have another shot at the Olympics.
She had won the bronze at the 2012 Games, and did not qualify for 2016. Her less-than-stellar performance at the Olympics is explained by the fact that before each of these Games, she has had to shift up to the 51kg category, because her usual weight class is not a part of the Olympics.
Adding weight slows her down, and she faces taller opponents.
But she is not the defensive Mary anymore, who would list her struggles with weight changes. She has made up her mind; this is her category too.
“This is not the first time for me,” Mary says. “I have fought in 51kg for many years, since the Asian Games in 2010 (bronze) which was my first.”
She knows where the conversation is headed—the impending trials in 51kg where the likes of Pinki Jangra and Nikhat Zareen, the top 51kg boxer in India right now.
She steps in with a hard jab.
“Whoever is playing in my category, nobody knows them,” she says. “I don’t want to trip anyone. They are also trying, good, let them try. I am also trying.”
And then a feint, and an uppercut.
“We are same, but we are not equal,” she says. “Let them prove it. How many achievements do they have? Maybe a national championship, that’s all. Have you proved yourself out of India? I am the only who has, from beginning till now.”
Mary does not believe in trials, she believes in throwing punches.
“Sometimes I get irritated,” she says. “What trials for those who are performing at high level? In other sports do you have so many trials? We have to go through the same situation again and again. The coaches have seen the sparring, they know who is doing what, you decide on that. What is the point of having trials after trials?”
“I am only focused on my training during the short period.”
Mary takes a breather. She backpedals a little, the battle-hardened veteran knows how to pace herself.
“Sometimes I feel sad,” she says. “My age matters also, but forget about the age. Saina, Sindhu, Bajrang they all have been champions, but they also lose.
“Sports is our life, you win and lose. You have to take lessons and improve. Unless you do so, how will you become a champion? The whole year, every bout we cannot win. The form will be up and down.”
She has her plans in place. “The target is to qualify for Olympics, first is World Championships, then Asia Oceania for second attempt. I will go for small invitational tournaments, see whether I get good partners. If not, then I can go for training abroad.
“I have very few sparring partners here. I fight with 54kg girls. They are heavier than me. But those who are good in basics, in technique, tactics, I don’t find in India. Somehow I am doing my own training and trying to improve speed and power.”
She has full faith in her personal coach, former boxer Chhote Lal Yadav, who has been there with her since she trained with British boxing coach Charles Atkinson before the London Olympics.
“Other coaches are not bad. But I look for experience. He (Chhote Lal Yadav) has represented the country. He can help me out, I connect with him.”
Right, that’s the end of the breather, here comes Mary throwing swinging hooks.
“Some other coaches only want me to listen. I am playing inside the ring, they are not playing inside the ring, no?” She asks. They say, ‘maro, maro… kitna marega?” (They say, ‘hit, hit…but how much can I hit?’)
Mary begins to laugh. She is enjoying herself. “We have to be very smart in training, in the ring. I have learnt with my experience.”
But at 36, after winning six World Championships golds, gold at the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games, what keeps her going?
“I thought I will win one gold at the 2012 Olympics and I will be in peace,” she says. “Olympic gold is the most precious. Bronze is also precious. World championships medal are also precious, of any colour. One to six, you can count it easily, but is it so easy to get them?”
The intense session is drawling to a close. What are her expectations from the India Open?
“I would like to test myself in 51kg. There are boxers from other countries here.”
What she leaves unsaid is that her Indian opponents don’t count; but, what if she is asked to give a trial again for the 2020 Olympics—even if she wins at these tournaments—something that the national boxing body is likely to do?
“Just wait and watch,” she says.
May 23, 2019 09:17 IST
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