An Olympic medallist, a 6 time World champion, recipient of the Arjuna award, the Khel Ratna, the Padma Shri, the Padma Bhushan, the Padma Vibhushan, a member of Parliament, a wife, mother of four, and what a lot of people don’t know – a very good singer.
MC Mary Kom is all that and more.
The 38 year old, who is synonymous with boxing excellence, has already won one Olympic medal (bronze in 2012 London Games), but she is not one to rest on her laurels. Her quest for an Olympic gold is what continues to motivate her.
The Tokyo Games will be Mary’s Olympic swansong and she is ready to land as many knockout punches necessary to get to her ultimate goal – an Olympic gold medal.
In a candid chat with TimesofIndia.com, Mary spoke about her boxing journey – the highs and lows, her biggest motivation that keeps her going, the support she has received over the years, the challenges of being an elite athlete who is also a mother and much more…
You have won everything that there is to win in women’s boxing – including as many as 6 World Championship titles and an Olympic medal. At this stage of your career what is your biggest motivation?
An Olympics gold medal is my biggest motivation.
What do the Olympics mean to you as an elite athlete?
The Olympics are perhaps the world’s biggest sporting event and the highest goal for all athletes, since it is the ultimate and most prestigious competition. This is all I have been waiting and striving thus far for, with all the struggles, sacrifices and perseverance
Being Mary Kom isn’t easy. There are always a lot of expectations whenever you compete. How do you handle the pressure of expectations?
Very true. People would celebrate when I win, but there is criticism and talk about when I lose or didn’t live up to their expectations. A vanquish is, of course, hard to accept as a human, but boxing is a game, and we will sometimes lose and sometimes win. As long as I maintain my fitness, I am not affected by pressure. I always work hard and give my best, that’s how I handle pressure.
You have already said that the Tokyo Olympics will be your last appearance at the Games. Going into the Tokyo Games what goals have you set for yourself?
I will give my best effort and win the gold medal.
Manpreet Pawar and MC Mary Kom leading Team India’s Olympic contingent in the opening ceremony. (TOC/ANI Photo)
How happy are you with the preparation and training that you have had for the Olympics this time?
Since the outbreak of the Pandemic, there have been a lot of changes in our training and preparation and this has adversely affected us all. I am therefore not very satisfied with it, but it is the same for everyone. So going by the existing situation, I am good with the preparation and hoping for the best to come out of it.
Have you identified the biggest possible threats for you enroute to the gold at the Tokyo Olympics? Which boxers would you say will give you the toughest competition in Tokyo?
I have identified my weak points and worked on them to the best of my ability. My opponents are usually taller with good reach, and that is one of the biggest threats to my victory. We are competing in the Olympics, so none of the boxers or athletes will be that easy, since the best have been selected from around the world. I guess they will all be tough.
Looking back, when was the first time in your career when you said to yourself – ‘I can represent my country at the Olympics’?
After I won several consecutive World Championships and when there were talks and negotiations for Women’s Boxing to be included in the Olympics, I was confident I could represent my country.
As a female boxer you have many firsts to your name – Only one to win 6 World titles, only one (male or female) to win as many as 8 World Championship medals, first female boxer from India to win an Asian Games gold medal, the only female Indian boxer till now to win an Olympic medal, the first amateur athlete to be conferred the Padma Bhushan. Which achievement of yours is the closest to your heart and why?
As an athlete, the Olympic medal is my favorite because that is what I was really longing for and was after.
You took a break from boxing after your marriage and then returned to the ring after the birth of your first two children – How difficult was it for you to make that comeback?
It was challenging, both physically and emotionally. My fitness was almost down to zero and it cost me time and effort to come back to the fitness level an athlete needs to have and the most difficult part was leaving behind my young and loving kids who were still in much need of a nursing mother. There were times I wanted to give up my career when I had to leave my children and had to be away from them, missing them. But with the support from my family and the dream I have, to achieve, I was driven to go ahead.
MC Mary Kom at the Olympics Games village in Tokyo. (ANI Photo)
How important a role does nutrition play in an athlete’s life? How much has the focus on nutrition during active training evolved over the years?
Nutrition is an integral part of an athlete’s life. I can perform consistently and remain focused for a longer period of time while taking healthy and correct diet. Eating right, fresh food and eating food at the correct time makes all the difference in an athlete’s life. Over the years, I have built my stamina and remained fit consistently by maintaining discipline in my trainings and eating nutritious and healthy food on time. Eating healthy and staying fit are part of the same puzzle, you can’t win one without the other.
On your boxing journey you have received a lot of support from various quarters – including the Ministry, SAI, the Boxing federation, IOA – Your take on the support you have received from these quarters and how it made you a better boxer.
My journey to the Olympics is not an overnight one, but the impact and result of all the common efforts put together for years by me, my training team, the Government, the federation, IOA, and other sponsors, who are taking care of all my requirements. I would have been nowhere without the support from them. No matter how talented an individual might be, he/she cannot succeed without a team and support.
You were conferred the Padma Vibhushan last year. What would you say is your biggest legacy?
I am grateful to our Government for all the prestigious awards and Padma Vibhushan in particular, which was conferred to me last year. My Olympic medal and being an Olympian is my biggest legacy.
One thing that you also had to deal with was changing weight categories – from 46kg to 48kg to 51kg – And you did that almost effortlessly. But a lot of hard work must have gone into preparing and mentally and physically adjusting to that – Talk to us about how difficult that process was…
As long as situations are under my control, such as going up to 51 kg, it doesn’t matter how much it costs me because I am determined to do it and I am ready to pay for it. However, there are certain things that are beyond my capabilities, such as better reach and my opponents coming down from higher weight categories. These are the things that concern me and the only solution is to accept and face them as they are.
Going into Tokyo – you are one of the big medal contenders – Which other Indian athletes are you yourself expecting a medal from at the Games this time – across sports?
Qualifying for the Olympics is not easy which we all know. The best have been picked, not just from the country but from the continents, then the world. My fellow athletes who are competing in the Tokyo Olympics have gone through several trials and are qualified based on their specialties and potential. There are all possibilities of winning medals but this is Olympics, the best from the world are competing. Every moment and the day of the Olympics will decide who will win the medal. Let us wait with fingers crossed and my best wishes to all my Indian athletes once again. Let us give our best and bring glory to our country.
Manpreet Pawar and MC Mary Kom at the opening ceremony. (TOC/ANI Photo)
One thing that always amazes everyone is how you can juggle motherhood with being the best in the business in your sport – Talk to us a little bit about family support, the difficulty of being a working mother who is an elite athlete and how much Mary the person has changed after motherhood.
Parents will know better the never-ending responsibilities at home, from household chores to investing time in our children. From the beginning, my family, especially my husband, has been supportive, covering all of the gaps and never letting me feel that my absence in the family has cost us anything. That is the reason why I am able to reach this level, being able to concentrate and give my whole in my training and sports career.
There are certain things that only a mother can provide in the family for children. I try my best in dealing with it and my kids also understand that I am working hard for them as well, which helps a lot in handling it.
Being in the National team as an athlete demands a lot and we spend most of our time in a year at the camp. For mothers, this is never an easy task.
Who has been your biggest idol? Dingko Singh of course is someone who inspired you a lot…
Muhammad Ali is my idol, I liked all his styles. Of course Dingko Singh’s maiden achievement in the Asian Games inspired me to take up boxing.
There has also been a movie made on your life – Which is your favourite dialogue from the movie?
Fighter kabhi haar nahi manta!
One thing not a lot of people know is that you also sing very well – Which is the one song which you connect with the most and why?
“What’s up” by 4 Non Blondes. I am no activist, but deep inside, I want to bring a change in the society for good in every aspect, away from discrimination, injustice, crimes and war. This song relates a lot to these things.
Going into the Tokyo Olympics what will be your message to all your fans?
I have done my part in preparing well and will give my best in the Olympic bouts to bring Gold medal for the country. The rest is in the hands of Almighty God. I seek your moral support and prayers.