Tokyo Olympics: Mary Kom hopes for a memorable swansong

Six-time world champion sets sights on elusive gold in her final Olympics
“My goal is to win the elusive Olympic gold medal,” came the reply from India’s most decorated boxer while preparing for her final Games fling in the Italian town of Assisi, before reaching Tokyo on Sunday. She added, “And I hope my last Olympics turns out to be the most memorable one and I can inspire people and bring some joy in these challenging times.”
The only boxer in the world with eight World Championship medals, MC Mary Kom‘s status as an inspiring sporting icon is not accurately reflected in the well-known but poorly-made Bollywood biopic. Instead, her influence looms large in the steady churning out of women boxers in the country, three of whom will accompany her in Tokyo.

Yet, as the six-time world champion was making the most of the final leg of her preparations in an Italian commune strewn with Roman remains, she was aware of the warrior-like effort she has had to put up in the last one and a half years against an opposition as formidable as Covid-19.
“It was a tough time in general with the second wave rampant and everything happening so quickly. The training camp had to be stopped temporarily but we were in touch with each other through video calls and we devised a new plan,” Mary Kom said, describing the period when she was without her personal coach, Chhote Lal Yadav, who had contracted the virus in mid-April.
Coach Yadav gave more details of that plan. “Sumya (Halder, her physio) was in touch with her and made sure that all the good work that we did in the past months continued. After a few weeks, we went to SAI, Pune, and trained there. We took it as another challenge and did everything possible,” said Yadav.
“I was doing my best with whatever was possible, keeping myself fit and training and brushing up on my techniques,” added Mary Kom. “My experience also helped me in such tough circumstances as I knew it wouldn’t be long before things changed again for the better. With Asian Championships and Olympics around, I had enough motivation to train hard.”
It was this optimism, which she said was aided by the constant support of her family, that kept her mentally strong even when she was devoid of professional training and sparring. She was confined to her home during the lockdown and even had a bout of dengue.

“In the beginning, it was a bit strange as I am not used to staying at home for a long time,” said the London Olympics bronze medallist and mother of four sons, who, like her transition from 48kg to 51kg to be eligible for a last shot at glory in Tokyo, adapted to the new normal of lockdown. “I made sure that I was giving ample time both to my family and my training. My kids also understand the responsibility that I have towards my country and my game.”
While settling for bronze in her first outing after the pandemic-caused interruption in Spain, she came home with silver from Asian Championships in Dubai. “I lost a very close final and was disappointed in the beginning but it is in my nature to look at the positives, work on my mistakes and come back strongly,” said Mary Kom of her going down by split decision to 11 years younger Kazakh Nazym Kyzaibay in the final.
But the final defeat in the lead-up to the Olympics does not perturb most in the Indian camp. “Mary has gained a lot of experience and possesses all the qualities to get a good result at the Olympics,” believes Raffaele Bergamasco, the women’s team’s high performance director.
The 38-year-old former world No. 1, who holds the third spot in AIBA rankings ahead of the Games, is rearing to make her last Olympic sojourn memorable not just for her, but also for every Indian kid in need of an icon to emulate.

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