Sitting cross-legged on the edge of the boxing ring, MC Mary Kom chatted and laughed with abandon. Moments earlier Mary Kom was a different beast in the ring. Every punch made a strong thud which echoed through the hall; her gaze spoke of her intent, she screamed as she threw a combination at her sparring partner.
Italian coach Raffaele Bergamasco was monitoring, passing instructions, sometimes pitching in with remarks in between. He wanted more intensity, a different set of combination. Mary gave him a patient hearing and got down to execution.
In two weeks’ time, Mary Kom will be competing in her seventh World Boxing Championships here and vying for her sixth gold medal. The Manipuri, whose international success started with a silver medal in Pennsylvania, US in 2001, when the women’s world championships were organised for the first time, has become a path-breaker in her sport.
Mary Kom, then a fearless 18-year-old, is now an Olympic medallist, a parliamentarian, mother of twins and an icon at 35. She vaguely recollects her first World Championship medal; in fact her first of the five gold medals in Antalya in 2002 is more vivid in her memory.
But then Mary Kom has not given herself the luxury to look back and preen over her achievements; she doesn’t even want to. She would rather focus on improving her speed and power. She is busy studying her young opponents. She is thinking ahead and wants to create new memories.
“Maybe, I will have a new memory to share after this. I love all my medals and I will try to get a 6th World Championships gold here,” Mary says, breaking into laughter.
“I am competing in world championships in my category (48kg) after a long time. That is an advantage. I won gold in 2006 here in front of home crowd and this time too I want to gift gold to my country. I will try my best.”
A query on retirement draws a ‘straight punch’ from her. “Why? Aur josh aa raha hai. I have a busy schedule (bhag, bhag ke aa rahi hoon yahan). I do not want to miss a single practice session. Today was a sparring day for me and that’s very important,” she puts it rather emphatically.
“I am still working on aspects of my game. I have won all the medals but still feel there is something missing. I want to increase my speed, my power. I am always working on my game. That comes from inside. Nobody can teach you.
“Every boxer is strong today. They are young. Skill wise, technically they might be weak but they have energy. I can’t afford to relax against them. You have to use your intelligence in every match. Once I know my opponent, I have to plan and play accordingly. That’s my game.”
Over the years, Mary Kom’s training has also gone through a change. The focus is on short, high-intensity sessions and endurance. Coach Bergamasco has charted out the schedule for her. “I like this programme. I have to focus on a few points and review my sessions, and yes fitness is very important.”
The “Magnificent Mary” has seen women’s boxing change in these years. It has now become highly competitive.
In fact, she has been a great ambassador for the sport and was fittingly chosen as the first female winner of AIBA Legends Award. She has pitched for the sports’ inclusion in Olympics.
Mary has seen through the tough phase. She is now enjoying her time in the ring. “Yes I am enjoying it more now with experience. When I started off, it was different. There was a lot of strain. I was young and just wanted to win. I was using all my strength, no tactics, technique, skills, nothing at all. That was a different world,” she said.
“I would go all out against opponents, get injured, then ice myself and get back on my feet again. There was no facility. No doctor, no physio. But God was there and I somehow managed. Kaise, kaise bhi bas kar liya.”
“Now the competition is becoming very tough. I give my all in training. I take every training session very seriously, fully focused. My mind is always there.
“I am always trying to improve, working on my weaknesses. Whatever the coaches tell me, I follow. Sometimes I realise I did very well in training.
“It is great for me that I can still participate for my country. I try to be an example for the young boxers. If Mary can perform year after year, after children, with so many responsibilities, so can they.”
“I really thank those who support me — SAI, Govt, BFI my physio, doctors, they still believe in me. The expectations can put you under pressure. Sometimes I tell myself not to take pressure, or else I won’t be able to train properly.”
However, it pains Mary Kom to see that young Indian boxers have not followed her footsteps. “They can see and learn from me. If anyone comes and asks for tips how to improve I am there to help. But if they don’t ask, how can I go and tell them. That will amount to interfering in their life and career. That’s not my job. My job is to come here and train hard and to do better.”
“They need to have that hunger, it should come from within.”