London: Soon after losing her bout to Great Britain’s Nicola Adams, she arrived in the mixed zone, where instant interviews with the media are permitted, almost with a spring in her step, the adrenalin obviously still pumping.
“I am free now,” M.C. Mary Kom said, smiling broadly, but still sweating profusely from the 15-minute, four-round contest that had seen her hopes of winning a gold or silver medal dashed. The verdict was unanimous and emphatically in her opponent’s favour, 11-6. To some, this may have seemed like a surprisingly flighty or facetious reaction, but the next few minutes made it clear it was just the burden of the expectations of a billion people—apart from her own ambitions—were finding release. “I want to say sorry to the people of my country for not getting gold or silver,” she said, moving into another groove altogether. “I was overwhelmed by the support from all kinds of people, and I am thankful to them. But I tried my hardest and I am happy to at least bring back an Olympic medal.”
Participating in the Olympics had been Mary’s dream for over a dozen years, which have seen her traverse one of the most remarkable journeys in contemporary sport, and made her not only the face of women’s boxing globally, but also an inspiration for women, not the least in India where gender inequality remains a national shame. Her travails are still to be completely documented. But, apart from what it took for her to beat social restraints and an underprivileged background to become a boxer, and the fact that she took a two-year sabbatical to start a family (she has five-year-old twins), the?difficulty quotient of participating in the Olympics is the most relevant in the current context.
Bowing out: India’s M.C. Mary Kom (in red) lost to Nicola Adams of Great Britain in the semi-final of the women’s flyweight boxing on Wednesday. Photo: Manvender Vashist/PTI
A five-time world champion in the 48kg category, Mary had to put on weight to fight in the 51kg event—the lowest weight category available. That she could still reach the semi-finals and win a medal redounds to her determination as much as her skills.
In Adams, who, at 30, is one year older, and has come back from an injury to beat her earlier, Mary ran into an opponent who was not only bigger, but on this day, cleverer.
Mary started aggressively, hoping to score early and decisive points, but Adams used her long reach to keep her at bay, and then chose astute moments to land the punches. “It is not the power of the punches, which matter,” Mary was to say later, “but how many you score on the computer. The number I landed did not seem to get the scoring going.”
She was generous in her praise for Adams. “She was good and clever. This is sport. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.” She didn’t look or sound dejected. This didn’t seem like lip service. “Thanks to Jesus, I have made this long journey and realized a dream. Now I am looking forward to going home. My family, especially my sons, are missing me and I am missing them,” she said.
Undoubtedly a nation beholden to her will celebrate her return. She may have won only a bronze, but Mary has proved?herself to be of 24-carat virtue.
Ayaz Memon writes a fortnightly column in Mint, Beyond Boundaries.