There will be no ‘Magnificent Mary’ at the summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Mary Kom — a five-time world champion, Olympic bronze medallist and the face of women’s boxing in India — lost her last chance to qualify for the Games on Saturday, losing her second-round 51kg bout to German Azize Nimani at the worlds in Astana, Kazakhstan.
In a double blow, fellow Manipuri Sarita Devi (60kg) was knocked out of contention by Mexico’s Victoria Torres at the same event from where the semi-finalists in the three Olympic categories will make the cut for the upcoming Rio Games. Both women needed a semi-final finish to get their ticket to Rio.
World Championships are the final qualifying competition for the Rio Games, which will be held from August 5-21. Only three weight categories of 51kg, 60kg and 75kg are part of the women’s boxing competitions at the Olympics.
India’s hopes now rest on Pooja Rani (75kg), still in contention in Astana, while the last qualifying event for men gets underway in Azerbaijan next month.
Eyeing a medal as well as an Olympic berth, Asian Games bronze-medallist Pooja entered the pre-quarterfinal of the tournament with a hard-fought triumph over Ukraine’s Mariya Borutsa a day ago.
For 33-year-old Mary, Rio would have been her second Olympics after London in 2012, where she became the first Indian woman — and only the second Indian after Vijender Singh (bronze, Beijing 2008) — to win an Olympic boxing medal.
“I believe God has a different plan for me. I want to thank all my fans and my support team for not letting me down in this crucial moment. I wish our remaining Indian boxers all the best and I hope they make our country proud,” Mary Kom said, adding that she gave her best.
The fight in Astana was close, Nimani eventually winning 2-0 with two judges calling it 39-37 in her favour while the third called it 38-all.
Mary — a mother-of-three whose life has inspired a biography and a biopic — won gold at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, but failed to earn a berth at the Asian qualifiers earlier this year.
For former world and Asian champion Sarita Devi, 31, Rio would have been her comeback after a one-year ban for refusing to accept her bronze medal at the Incheon Asiad, protesting what she called an unfair verdict.
“It’s a great setback as Mary is not only the country’s most popular woman boxer but also the face of Indian boxing. Her absence from Rio will have an impact on the popularity of the sport in the country,” said Gurbax Singh Sandhu, chief national boxing coach.
Had the two women qualified, they would have greatly bolstered India’s boxing contingent for Rio. “Till date, we have only one boxer (Shiva Thapa) who has qualified,” said Sandhu.
There is, however, a remote chance Indian fans may get to see Mary in the ring in Rio. As brand ambassador of world governing body AIBA, she may get a wild card entry.
But, getting a wild card is rare. There is only one on offer in each weight division for women, and they are usually given to boxers from countries that have failed to earn a qualifying berth. That call will only be taken after all qualifying tournaments are over.
(With agency inputs)