Kolkata: At 38, with six World Championship belts and an Olympics medal to her name, M.C.Mary Kom is an iconic figure in women’s sport in India - if not one of the biggest examples of breaking the glass ceiling. The fire in her belly, however, prevents her from resting on her laurels as the iron woman from Manipur readies herself once more for what would be her second Olympics appearance in Tokyo 2020.
The Olympics gold medal is something which has eluded her and the job won’t be any easier in her 51 kg category this time around. However, the mother of three and the owner of most of the Indian government’s civilian awards, is leaving no stones unturned to carry on with her preparations in these tough times of the COVID-19 pandemic. The national camp for Olympics, which had been going on under the watchful eyes of their High Performance Director Santiago Nieva, had to be shifted from New Delhi to Pune for the enormous spike in cases in the Indian capital recently - but she had taken it all in her stride.
Now in Dubai as part of the Olympics bound Indian contingent for the Asian Championships, the seasoned athlete sees the event as a ‘‘great opportunity’’ for herself and the rest of the squad to test their readiness for the Games. The cancellation of the World Qualifiers, scheduled in February in Paris when the second wave of the pandemic was just about gaining steam, deprived the squad of valuable competition time - meaning that the Dubai event would be the last exposure event before the ‘greatest show on earth.’
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Speaking to Gulf News in an exclusive interview on the eve of leaving for Dubai, Mary Kom dwelt on a wide range of subjects - from her Olympic ambitions to her contribution towards women’s empowerment and empowerment in the country. Following are the excepts:
QUESTION: At 38 years and with nothing left to prove, when did you actually take the call to give the Tokyo Olympics a shot?
MARY KOM: That Olympics gold medal is a dream and it keeps me going every day. Though the situation has been tough, the Olympics was postponed earlier by a year and we had to rework our strategies and plan. But that’s what an athlete’s life is all about, isn’t it? Regardless of the difficult situations or challenges one is facing, hard work and determination have to be relentless.
My resolve hasn’t suffered but rather they have only grown stronger. I will give my best shot and the rest will see what happens.
The build-up to the Games had been a rocky one, with the world qualifying event in Paris cancelled due to the pandemic. How are you making up for it?
Cancellation of Paris World Qualifiers did not affect me personally as I had secured myself a quota at the Asian Qualifiers only but yes, we could have had more qualified boxers but certain things are not in our hands. In fact, nine of our boxers earned berths for Tokyo and that’s a huge achievement. It shows how strongly Indian boxing has grown over the years. However, this number could have increased if World Qualifiers had taken place.
The training also had to be shifted from the Indian capital of New Delhi to Pune – how difficult was it to adjust to the new environment?
Yes, our camp was shifted to Pune but it wasn’t that different. We are used to travelling places throughout the year for tournaments, so a change of place doesn’t make much difference. We have been training in a bio-secure bubble. The facilities at Army Sports Institute, Pune are really good. Each room has a personal gym and fitness area which allowed us to work on fitness even in the quarantine period.
How much will the participation in the Asian Championship in Dubai help in testing the readiness of the contingent?
The Asian Championship is the last tournament for us ahead of the Olympics and this will help us a lot to understand and assess our preparations ahead of going to Tokyo. The competition will be tough in the presence of most Tokyo-bound boxers of the continent but it will also be a great opportunity for me and the entire contingent to test ourselves before the mega event.
I was out of action for some time while recovering from dengue And after making a comeback, I have just played one tournament. So, I’m really looking forward to participating and make most of this chance as well as get the much-needed momentum before Tokyo.
The bubble life is something new even for an experienced campaigner for you. How difficult is it for athletes’ community - who like to normally thrive in bonding at the camps?
Bubble life is something we all are experiencing for the first time. I don’t think any athlete has ever imagined that a situation like this will come and we will end up living in a bubble. But that is the need of the hour, this pandemic is the biggest challenge and we have to fight against it together while keeping ourselves safe.
Yes, initially it took time to get adjusted to the bubble but then now I am used to it. I trained even during the lockdown and while we had been confined at home, but the only thing I personally missed was sparring and playing tournaments the most. That is why participating at the Asian Championships was so important and I am thankful to the Boxing Federation of India and our President, Ajay Singh, who ensured that we could travel in such extreme circumstances too.
How are you balancing the work-life ratio, now that the children have grown up a bit? Can they manage on their own?
Honestly, managing sport and family is always a challenge but I have been lucky, my husband has been really supportive and that makes my life much easier and I can focus on my game. Last year that I have been home and it has been tough on me as an athlete, but it also gave me an opportunity to spend more time with my kids and family - unlike my usual routine where I travel throughout the year for tournaments and don’t get much free time. We spent a lot of time together as family and played music, danced and it was some quality and memorable time spent with them.
Finally, a six-time world champion, an Olympic medallist, an icon for women’s sport in the country who has inspired a biopic her name – which identity do you cherish the most?
I feel really lucky that I could inspire people of my country, especially women players. Nothing is impossible if you are ready to work hard. It gives me immense happiness when I see young girls coming up from various corners of India and performing well at the international level.
The identity that I would want to cherish is to be a person who would consider nothing as impossible if you pursue your dream and goals.