The world knows her as ‘Magnificent Mary’, by occupation she is a police officer, her main hobby is martial arts and she is the mother of three. And she is one of the rare Indian athletes on whom a super-duper biopic has been made.
Her boxing credentials could put any top Indian athlete to shade. She is a five-time world champion, an Olympic bronze medallist, and on Wednesday became the first Indian woman boxer to clinch an Asian Games gold.
At 31, with three kids to raise with the youngest, Prince Chungthanglen, a toddler, she decided to get back to the boxing ring. Training like a woman possessed and determined to get back into the national squad, she won her biggest test at the Seonhak Gymnasium.
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MC Mary Kom (red) up against Kazakhstan's Zhaina Shekerbekova (blue) during the final of the women's fly (48-51kg) boxing match at the Seonhak Gymnasium during the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. (Reuters Photo)
Her opponent from Kazakhstan, Zhaina Shekerbekova, was six years younger, muscular, agile and packed more power in her punches. For inspiration, she looks up to the legendary Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao, Mike Tyson and Kazakhstan legend Bekzat Sattarkhanov. Mary derives inspiration from her family, the Tricolour and the
"blessings of her coach and friends".
So, when Mary met the 2010 Asian championship winner in the final, everyone knew it would be tough, especially since this was the first international event the tiny Manipuri was competing in after the London Olympics.
Read: MC Mary Kom - unboxed
But the spring in Mary’s steps was unmistakeable, her body language positive. She had entered the ring to win. The young Kazakh was taking her chances and making Mary Kom strain her ageing legs but little realising that the final burst was yet to come.
A cracking left jab in the first round did rattle Mary. “Yes, the Kazakh girl was good and moved quite well, but I knew that to overcome the challenges at the Asian Games, I had to build my endurance. I didn’t want to lose like I did at Guangzhou (2010), where I finished with a bronze,” said the champion boxer.
The moment she entered the hall with her entourage, chants of ‘Mary, Mary’ virtually brought the ceiling down. It seemed everyone, irrespective of nationality, was willing Mary to win.
Of course, there were distractions, the biggest of all being L Sarita Devi being denied a certain place in the final by the judges “in one of the most one-sided decisions I have witnessed”.
Even national coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu felt before the bout that Mary could get affected as the two “always prefer to be roommates when they are on international assignments”.
To get back the positive feeling in the camp, Manipuri dish, Iromba, was prepared in the night, and it lifted the spirits somewhat. The rest Mary Kom had to do in the ring. “I worried a lot about Sarita the whole night, but I also thought I could ease her suffering by winning gold.”
And the first person she hugged on stepping out of the ring with gold was Sarita. Tears of joy welled in the eyes of both boxers and Sarita seemed to bask in Mary’s glory. Outside the arena, hundreds waited to congratulate the Indian on her maiden Asian Games gold, and her coaches waxed eloquent on how they had brought her to this level in a span of just a few months.
It started before the Commonwealth Games when she lost the national trials to Pinki Jangra and failed to make it to Glasgow squad. And when she caused a furore after the Asiad trials were postponed, everyone thought she was being extremely rigid.
No one thought she was only counting every second out of the ring as time wasted. She beat her opponent hands down in the trials and arrived in Incheon.
In the final, the Kazakh boxer was tough and after the first round it was difficult to decide who had the upperhand. The second too was close but the last two sealed it in Mary’s favour. Technically, she looked the better boxer by far. Mary had the experience and she seemed to dig deep into reserves of energy.
By the time the bout ended, no one had a doubt who the champion was.