With a decisive third round, in which she attacked Rahali Maroua with strong jabs with her dominant left hand, M.C. Mary Kom sealed the quarter-final in her favour and assured India of at least another medal in this Olympics to take the tally beyond the three won at Beijing.
The judges gave Mary 6-1 in the third, which made up for the two sluggish rounds preceding this, in which she had spent more time parrying the occasional thrust of her taller Tunisian rival.
In the fourth, Rahali tried to score with a flurry of hooks and jabs, but mostly missed the mark as Mary hip-hopped her way out of trouble on twinkling feet, getting in a few of her own blows in between to impress the jury. The final verdict was 15-6.
The win took Mary into the semi-finals where she meets the highly favoured Nicola Adams of Great Britain. She is assured of a medal, win or lose, according to the rules of the competition. But Adams, who would have closely followed the Indian register emphatic wins in both her bouts, would be wary of not just Mary’s superb technical skills but also the great character and determination she has shown.
Stepping up: Mary Kom’s (left) semi-final bout will be on Wednesday.
Win or lose on Wednesday, Mary’s entry and performance in the Olympics has added a fresh and remarkable chapter to a fairy tale that would find few parallels in sports anywhere. Hailing from modest background in the troubled north-east, the 29 year old from Manipur gave up on track and field to take to boxing, inspired by former Indian boxer Dingko Singh who hailed from the same state.
Despite meagre resources for training—not to mention the societal resistance to a woman entering a predominantly male domain—Mary has surmounted the heaviest odds to become a boxer of international repute.
Women boxers have won greater approval on celluloid (for e.g. Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby) than in real life, even in the West. While the great Muhammad Ali’s daughter Laila was a professional boxer, social and gender prejudices always made women’s boxing a way-behind also-ran to the men’s.
Why, this is the first time that women’s boxing has been included in the Olympics, a full 108 years after men, though the world championships have been around for over a decade. But in India, obviously, there were bigger barriers to wear down than in the West. Once she decided to give up on track and field, however, Mary has gone about pursuing her passion with a zeal and determination that has astonished foes, fans and critics alike.
What makes her story even more remarkable is that after winning the world championship twice, she took a two-year sabbatical to start a family, then came back and won the world title thrice again. For these Olympics, she had to train hard and long, especially overseas. She also got a professional trainer—Charles Atkinson.
Resources for these were provided to an extent by Olympic Gold Quest, the non-governmental organization started by Prakash Padukone and Geet Sethi, to support India’s medal prospects. But for the most, Mary Kom has battled it out on her own; in the ring obviously, but also to carve out a life that is not only unthinkably unorthodox, especially in the Indian milieu, but also unimaginably demanding for any sportsperson. Now knocking on the doors of international superstardom, she still retains the earthiness and simplicity of a small-town girl. On Sunday, when she won her first bout, she expressed some regret that she could not be with her twin boys who were celebrating their fifth birthday.
“This is my birthday present for them,” she said. On Monday, she had a present for the entire country.
Ayaz Memon writes a fortnightly column in Mint, Beyond Boundaries