Where: north-eastern state of Manipur, India
September 12, 2007 : Mary who? Twenty-five-year-old M.C Mary Kom from Manipur has won the world women’s boxing championship not once, not twice but thrice in the 46 kilogram category. (Boxers of similar body weight compete in a category.)
Mary won the three titles consecutively or in three straight years. She won her titles in Turkey in 2004, in Russia in 2005 and in Delhi in 2007. How many of us know of the achievements of this powerhouse of punches who comes from a remote village in the northeastern state of Manipur?
Just imagine – in competitions across the world, this five feet two champion towers tall. She is a known name, the best in her sport. But in India, many people would be surprised even to know that there is something called women’s boxing.
Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom was born into a farming family in Kangathei village. Life was hard. For her father, who lived by farming, looking after the needs of three daughters and a son was not very easy. At school Mary Kom played football and took part in athletics, but boxing was her secret love. Her inspiration was the Manipuri boxer Dingko Singh who had made a name for himself in the country and abroad. She had also heard of greats like Muhammad Ali.
In 2000, the teenager had made up her mind. One day she went to the boxing coach at the local centre of the Sports Authority of India and said she wanted to take up boxing. The coach soon discovered that the small built girl had a tremendous fighting spirit.
Mary Kom insisted on going through the same training as the boys. In two weeks she had learnt all the basics. However, her family had no idea of the sport Mary Kom had got into – boxing is seen as a boys’ game and forbidden to girls.
That very year Mary Kom won a state championship title in Manipur. Her photograph appeared in the newspapers. Her secret was out and her father was furious. He said her face would be so battered that no one would be ready to marry her.
However, Mary Kom had more important things on her mind, such as proving her talent to the world. She won the title of national champion the next four years; she established herself as the undisputed leader in the Second Asian Women’s Championship in Hissar (2003) and continued with a win in the Third Asian Women’s Championship held in Taiwan (2004). Between 2004-2006 she claimed three world titles!
The world champion says it is not enough to have a strong body; the secret is to have a strong heart, a fighting spirit. That Mary shows in great measure. Her style, she says, is to make her opponents run a lot in the ring, which tires them. Though not very tall at 5 feet 2 inches, Mary Kom more than makes up for it with her fitness and tough spirit.
Mary Kom has shown the same determination off the ring as well. She used the prize money that she got as world champion to build a new house for her parents and buy land for them. She has made her siblings financially secure.
But the irony is that till 2005, this world champion was without a job! She used the same prize money to get on with her life and with her training.
Today Mary Kom is an inspector with Manipur police. She trains for five to six hours a day to stay fit. She also trains the neighbourhood girls to box. Her dream is to start a boxing academy for girls in Manipur.
Early this year a company, Arzoo.com, decided to sponsor Mary Kom. She will get a sum of Rs 3,00,000 a year to help her get better training and facilities. For a champion who wants to scale new heights, this offer could not have come at a better time. All credit to companies that have decided to sponsor real champions in sports other than cricket.
In her short but eventful career, Mary Kom has put women’s boxing on India’s map and India on the world map of women’s boxing. A feat for which she was awarded the prestigious Arjuna award. This award is given to sportspersons who show outstanding achievements at the international level. Mary’s father attended the award ceremony in the national capital of Delhi.
Mary Kom is married and gave birth to twin sons early this month. She is keen to get back to the ring as soon as possible.
The champion still has one unfulfilled desire: to win a world title in the Olympics. The problem is that women’s boxing is not a part of the Olympics though efforts are on to include this sport. Let’s wish Mary Kom’s talent reaches Olympian heights.