London Olympic bronze medallist MC Mary Kom says that she cannot wait to rain punches on her opponents, assuring that her only aim right now is to ensure that she returns with a gold from the upcoming Tokyo Olympics (starting from July 23, 2021). She may be 37 but is as fit as she has ever been.
Kom became the first female boxer from India to win an Olympic medal when she won a bronze at London in 2012. This will be her second Olympic appearance. She booked her Olympic berth at the Asian qualifiers in Amman, Jordan, earlier this year.
From being a farm labourer’s daughter to practising with only male boxers (due to the lack of women boxers) to bringing glory to her country, Kom’s love for boxing always kept her on the feet. She first competed in the 48kg category, before the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA) scrapped the weight class from the Olympics, hence switched to 51kg, a weight category in which she won bronze at the 2010 Asian Games.
In an exclusive conversation with SheThePeople.TV the mother of three talks about the early influence that her mother had on her life, her father’s resistance, and what makes the eight-time world champion a sporting icon for the youth today.
What will be your strategy for the Tokyo Olympics?
Every athlete dreams of competing at the Olympics and winning a gold medal and I’m no different. It’s the biggest sporting event for a sportsperson, however, I feel the best approach at this stage is to calm my nerves when necessary. Focusing on the goal is essential instead of letting ourselves be under pressure. Pressures are not always constructive. I will just give my best effort, and that will be my master plan.
I would not say it is about chances but it is all about timing and how you deal or counter your opponent. Beyond hard work and skills, we need to play smartly.
How much of stage fright do you often get? Does it bother you after so many years of leadership and winning?
I do experience that on stage but not in the ring. I love boxing and it has been part of my life. I can box even in my dreams. As long as I am physically fit, I am not scared of anyone. I believe in my ability and mental strength. With years of experience now, I am able to read my opponent’s weakness fast and I can play my game, execute all strategies, and plan smoothly. Every time I step into the ring; the only thing that matters is to be in that moment and nothing else. I aim to give my 100 percent and I never take anyone lightly — experienced, or a young boxer.
As I plan to hang up my gloves after an 18-year-long career, Tokyo feels special, but it is also stressful because I want to win a gold medal at any cost. It does bother me a little bit that I am retiring after this.
Currently, if you review, what are your weak and strong points? What are the areas you need to work on now?
Due to lockdown, it’s been a while since I sparred or trained inside a ring. Though I feel that I am completely fine, there could be areas to improve but that will be seen later. My height and knee could be my weak points, but my speed, confidence, and the ability to counter opponents accordingly are my strong points.
Passion, discipline, dedication, hard work, and confidence, the most valued quality of a boxer – Mary Kom
Quality of having a better understanding of when to take a step back and when to attack, I think this quality is also very useful as we face a number of challenges everyday.
How are you dealing with the COVID-19 situation with family?
As a boxer, you can’t always be offensive or defensive. In life too, one needs to have that maturity and understanding, when to go fast, slow down and take a step backward. Life in COVID-19 and lockdown has been an eye-opener for me. I learned valuing the smallest things in life. These four months, I have spent so much time with my kids and family and now I know what I have been missing for long. Challenges will never cease in life but if we persevere and strive to overcome, no difficulty and roadblock are too big enough to overthrow.
Sport is the best teacher for life and one of the biggest lessons that I personally take to heart is, nothing is permanent, win, or lose – Mary Kom
What are the strategies your coach is planning on to take up?
In the pandemic nothing specific in the ring but we have to go on with online training and video analysis.
Coming from a conservative place, where most parents are still skeptical about their daughters choosing a career in sports, how did your mother inspire you to take up boxing? And your dad?
I come from a very humble family and buying a pair of boxing gloves itself was a luxury that neither I nor my family could afford. My decision to take up boxing wasn’t really something my dad was excited about; he always told me that boxing is a man’s game and I will hurt myself or de-shape my face. He felt boxing would lower my chances of finding a suitable groom. Nonetheless, I pursued the sport in secret till a point when people started recognising me and my performance was covered in media. However, such resistances were stairways of determination in my life.
Later he understood what boxing really meant for me and both my parents have supported it ever since. I inherited most of my dad’s qualities — he loves traditions and customs practiced by our ancestors. He is not biased and I was one of his favourites but he wasn’t very feminist though not against it. Undaunting support came from my husband who helped me reach the place I am today.
How progressive is your mom about equality and independence?
My mother played a very important role and was instrumental in convincing my father to let me follow my dream in boxing. She has always been helpful and supportive to me in every step. She is a woman with little words but more of action, which inspired me to pay back those who speak ill about me, with action by winning more medals one after another.
She is liberal in her approaches. Unlike my father, she is also easy to convince and not at all stubborn. The thought of boxing as a girl was unsettling in my family but my mom could digest it and supported me when I wanted to explore.
Coping with the shackles of poverty, helplessness, what are the challenges you still try to overcome at this stage of your career?
Humility is very important. Even today I don’t take things for granted. I work hard as much as a newcomer or any other boxer would because there are no shortcuts in life. Life is full of challenges, we have to be always ready to face and overcome them. The way you deal with it defines you and your life.
Girls tend to quit training in sports when they reach the age of 15 or 16, Is it because the country has deep cultural and societal issues?
This is a very good question, I must say. Yes, it is a trend that is being observed but there can be many reasons for it. Right from social-economic conditions at home, girls are married off at such tender age, still at many places, and many times menstruation is a factor most girls drop out of sports. However, the place I come from, girls and their families are now more open to pursuing sports and things are changing.
How long before girls will pick up boxing gloves without the hesitation of log kya kahenge? Do coaches need to be more sensible when they train girl players?
Without the support of parents, it will be very difficult for any player, be it a boy or girl, to achieve their goals. However, parents are very supportive these days, they have started believing now that sports can also be a successful career option. We have many new academies for women athletes. We also have women coaches so I don’t see any different attitude coaches should have just to train women athletes.
What is Mary Kom’s magic moment in the ring?
I live and enjoy every single magical moment.
And lastly, Mental health is as important as physical health and one needs to look at both with regards to being fit. What can athletes do on a regular basis to develop and maintain it?
Mental Health is one of the most important aspects that often go unnoticed. The lockdown phase and sudden stoppage of all kinds of active games have once again reinstated the need and importance of mental conditioning and consultation for players. We are maintaining a physical training and also talking to professional for help.