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Mary Kom: at the London Olympics

When in 2000 at Sydney, weightlifter Karnam Malleswari became India’s first woman Olympic medalist, it was indeed a historic moment. Two decades later, several Indian women athletes are going to London with a dream of shattering Malleswari’s bronze effort.  Boxer Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom or Mary Kom, as she is popularly known, is the brightest of them all.Mary has a dream. “To win the gold medal”, says the 30-year-old lady from the northeast Indian state of Manipur. The road to London was not easy for the village belle. Like Malleswari before her, Mary had to fight odds in her remote Manipuri village, Moirang. In her childhood days, Mary’s family had to fight even for the basics, let alone the luxuries.  She used to help her farmer father Mangte Tonpa Kom and mother Mangte Akham by helping them in the fields, cutting woods and fishing.

Sport was perhaps the only entertainment for her. And like other kids in the village she began with running cross country races. Old timers still recall the grit of a little girl in a torn tracksuit at the Loktak Christian Mission School in Moirang. Gradually Mary shifted to boxing even as she faced a volley of not-so-pleasant comments from local boys. “They thought boxing was only for boys,” recalls the five-time world champion.

“When I saw Asian champion Dingko Singh, I was hooked to boxing,” says Mary Kom in between punching text messages on her recently acquired Samsung galaxy mobile phone. Dropping out of school for full time boxing training, Mary gradually blossomed into a top flight boxer. During a competition trip to Delhi in 2005, she met Onler Kom, a fellow Manipuri. “Perhaps it was love at first sight,” she says. And two were tied into a wed lock in 2005. Onler came as a messiah in her life, taking care of all his problems as she made rapid progress by the day.

Even as she was racing towards stardom troubles were tagging along at an even faster pace. Political unrest in her home town made life tough. At times, most of the times there was no power at home. Road blockages deprived Manipur of gas, food, medicine, petrol and just about every thing else. Amid all this, Onler’s father was also killed by some protesters. “It was a horrible time for us,” recalls Mary. And then two years later she delivered twin boys. “It was a new challenge but Onler emerged as a big help.” It was Onler who took up the role of homemaker, leaving Mary to hone her punches for the bigger scalps in the ring.

All the fame and money that a senior police officer Mary has now cannot make up for a rather fractured family life. “I am away from home for long stretches for training and competition and I miss my sons Reng Pa and Nai Nai,” she says. Her main worry is that while gets goodies in life all over the world, boys are still deprived in troubled Manipur. “They don’t get even ice cream there,” she says with a lump in her throat. But a devout Baptist, Mary hopes life will change. “Jesus will take care of us,” she says with total conviction.

During last month’s pre-Olympic competition in London, Mary was at a sports good shop, looking for a waterproof jacket. She tried a quite a few of them rejecting all one by one. The salesman was a bit irritated. Finally Mary tried one in front of the mirror and began shadow boxing. It was then dawned on the salesman that she was no ordinary buyer. Only if he had realized that one month down the line the same girl would be chasing Olympic gold just a couple of miles from the shop and then savor her favourite dish of meat and boiled vegetables!

Norris Pritam


19.07.2012 | 11:44