Tokyo 2020: Mary Kom engulfed with disbelief after loss
- Tokyo 2020: After Thursday’s 51kg Round of 16 tie bout, the Colombian won 3-2, Kom raised her hand, bowed in all four directions, and hugged Valencia, who then raised Kom’s hand.
For over two hours after her fight with Ingrit Valencia, Mary Kom thought she had won.
After Thursday’s 51kg Round of 16 tie bout, the Colombian won 3-2, Kom raised her hand, bowed in all four directions, and hugged Valencia, who then raised Kom’s hand. Kom was looking out of breath, her hair dishevelled, but she was smiling. Minutes later, Kom was her gregarious self with the media.
It appeared at first sight that it was a way of bidding farewell to her distinguished career as an Olympic boxer. But Kom, who wanted a second medal desperately to add to her London 2102 bronze, was heartbroken when she discovered the verdict had gone against her.
“I thought I was the winner. I did not realise that I lost in the ring, and after I spoke to the media. They took me for doping [test], and then also I did not realise. Chote Lal (coach) was with me, and he was telling me that ‘you are the winner, Mary, don’t worry.’ I said, ‘I am a winner.’ Of course, I have won the bout. Then I checked my phone and checked the tweet of [Union minister] Kiren Rijiju sir, and it was shocking. I was like, oh my God, what has happened!” Kom said.
Then she could not hold back the tears.
“Imagine a boxer coming to know after two hours that she has lost an Olympic bout. It is crushing,” said Santiago Nieva, India’s high performance coach.
In an intense and fast three-round fight against Valencia, Kom won the second and third rounds 3-2 after the judges had scored the first 4-1 in the Colombian’s favour. Overall, when the cards were tallied, Valencia was 3-2 ahead.
Against an opponent six years younger and taller, Kom gave it her all after the early wobble. She weaved, ducked and punched hard, and ended the bout with a flurry of blows.
Kom, 38 and a mother of four, thought it was enough to seal a win. “It is very disappointing. I don’t know what to say. Everyone who has seen the match knows who is the winner. First round, I don’t know why they gave it to their corner. There were no punches. Then I won two rounds. So, why shouldn’t I think that I won? Why did they give it to her?” she asked.
“She (Valencia) was aggressive. She is younger. I was trying to stay calm, focused. I have played her before and we have even been training in Italy together,” she said.
Going into the fight, Kom led the head-to-head 2-0.
It is possible that in the heat of the moment, with music blaring over the public address system, Kom missed the announcement that said Valencia had won.
“Probably she was not listening or she did not see the referee pointing to the red corner. Even the referee must not have realised there was confusion or else he would have corrected,” said Nieva.
That Covid protocol dictate that the referees don’t raise the hand of the winner, would have added to Kom’s confusion. In Tokyo, the colour of the winner’s jersey is called out and the referee then points to the winning corner. As part of the task force appointed by the International Olympic Committee to run boxing after AIBA, boxing’s apex body, was barred from the Tokyo Games for irregularities, Kom was party to this decision.
On Thursday, she said she would resign from the task force. “I will write to IOC. As a member of task force, I have always been telling them to have free and fair judges. I don’t know why this has happened. It is unfair judgement. I will not be in the task force anymore.”
Controversial decisions and refereeing have been part of Olympics boxing for years. All 36 judges from Rio Olympics were suspended by AIBA following an investigation. The judges and the referees are evaluated after every bout. But while boxers can protest decisions in other competitions, they can’t at the Olympics.
India women’s boxing coach Raffaele Bergamasco said it was unlikely they would’ve lodged an official complaint. “Generally you can protest only in bouts where it is more apparent that the decision should have been in your favour,” he said.
A Mary Kom fight is a top draw in women’s boxing, and though there were no spectators at the Kokugikan Arena, she was the star, even in defeat. Kom was vociferously cheered by coaches, officials and contingent members. As congratulations poured in when she came out to talk to the reporters, she smiled. She did not realise then that it would be her last bow.
Kom may have faltered here but with all her world and Asian titles --- and a Commonwealth Games gold --- she can be credited for changing the face of boxing in India, and women’s boxing the world over.
And she said she is not calling it quits yet, and that she would compete in Asian Games and Commonwealth Games.
“What you need is will power and strength, strong mentality and disciplined training and focus. I am still strong enough. Age doesn’t matter. I heard about the age limit, but who knows?” she said.
The age limit for women’s boxing is 40, and Kom would have crossed that by the time Paris 2024 comes around.
“I have been fighting in the ring for so long”. She paused and started counting.
“It is easy to count in a finger how many years but difficult, very difficult. When you are in the ring, you think of only competition and tournaments. Just a few days you get to spend with family and in your village and again the same routine,” she said.
“I am so glad. It is an incredible achievement. All my experience. memories when I look back, I think how did I do all that? I am a wife, mother, and parliamentarian. It’s not easy. You have to be a very unique person to do that. I am so lucky that I have that. ”
It’s hard to disagree with any of that.