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India's 'Magnificent Mary' fights to the last for Olympic boxing glory

  • A Bollywood movie -- "Mary Kom" -- was made of her life in 2014 with Priyanka Chopra in the lead role and fans kept the faith even when she failed to win a place at the 2016 Rio Games
22 Jul 2021

NEW DELHI: India's boxing queen Mary Kom is mustering the grit and power to make one last bid for an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo at the age of 38.

Kom's rags-to-riches story became the stuff of legend when she won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Games, the first time women's boxing was an Olympic event.

A Bollywood movie -- "Mary Kom" -- was made of her life in 2014 with Priyanka Chopra in the lead role and fans kept the faith even when she failed to win a place at the 2016 Rio Games.

"Magnificent Mary", as the national treasure is known, repaid them when she won a record sixth world title in 2018.

Now she will be India's flag bearer along with men's hockey captain Manpreet Singh at the Tokyo opening ceremony before she competes in the 51kg flyweight competition.

Kom knows this will be the last roll of the dice, but is determined.

"Will step into the ring to fight for the gold, to make us all proud again," Kom, a mother of four, said on Twitter.

"Tokyo will be my last Olympics," she told the Olympic Channel. "Age matters here. I am 38 now, going on 39. Four more years is a long time."

Kom said she was "pretty sure I won't be allowed to even if I am willing to carry on till Paris 2024".

Girls can fight

Kom will face fierce competition from Turkish favourite Buse Naz Cakiroglu -- who beat Kom in the world championship semi-finals in 2019 -- but India is still willing on its darling.

Vijender Singh, a boxing bronze medallist at the 2008 Beijing Games, is confident Kom will succeed.

Mary Kom to give Priyanka Chopra boxing tip

"India's sporting fraternity is with her. She has an Olympic medal to her name and has lots of experience," Singh told AFP.

Akhil Kumar, who won gold at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, predicts two boxing medals for India in Tokyo, with Kom winning one of them.

Kom, who hails from a poor village in the northeastern state of Manipur, won a silver at the inaugural women's world championships in 2001, kickstarting her international career.

She went on to win gold at each of the next five world championships and clinched her sixth title in 2018.

Kom was the star of the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Delhi in 2010 even though women's boxing was still excluded.

The veteran boxer said the Olympics had changed her career trajectory.

"Becoming an Olympian and winning the bronze changed my life too," she said. "It also inspired many women to take up sport, especially boxing. I feel proud.

"I want more girls to come out and fight. I hope there are no restrictions on them to come out and fight for themselves and their country."

Kom became the first Indian woman boxer to win a gold medal at the Asian Games, in 2014, and also triumphed at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

She moved from her preferred 48kg category to 51kg in pursuit of Olympic glory -- there were just three weight divisions in women's boxing in 2012.

In London, just 12 boxers took part in the flyweight event but the competition has intensified and there are five rounds in Tokyo.

Kom has her work cut out but she has the weight of a nation behind her.