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GURUGRAM: Back from Vietnam after claiming her fifth Asian Championships gold and completing yet another successful comeback, it doesn’t seem MC Mary Kom is stopping anytime soon. It must have been tough for the 34-year-old considering she was away from the boxing ring for a considerable amount of time but what played for her was that she was back competing in her preferred weight category of 48kg. She looked better than ever with a dominant performance, signalling that she has put the disappointment of not qualifying for Rio Olympics on the backburner.
, Mary Kom spoke about her comeback, the category she is most suited for and whether she plans on giving Tokyo 2020 a thumbs up.
Winning a fifth gold medal at the Asian Boxing Championships is a fantastic achievement. Can you talk us through the mindset you had getting back into the ring and the pressure that comes with it?
Honestly, making this comeback wasn’t that tough. Since it was the 48-kg category and I have spent most part of my career fighting in that bracket, I knew that if I had prepared well, it would be easier for me. Generally people find comebacks tough, and yes, they can be extremely tough. But even when I was away from boxing all this while – three years to be exact – I had made it a point to train everyday for at least 45 minutes, either morning or evening. There have been other stuff too that required my attention such as my boxing academy and being the member of the athletes commission. And even though, I would dedicate my time to all of those things, boxing was always at the back of my mind. I knew that I could not afford to miss a beat and hence, I trained accordingly. I never stopped training. As the tournament grew closer, I increased my training time gradually. I knew that if I could maintain my fitness level, no one could beat me. In the hindsight, I believe it was a good decision to have not given up.
This was your first big tournament in three years. Being away from the game for so long, I’m sure you must have seen the sport evolved. How different was the competition you faced now as compared to 2014?
Now since I was back competing in the 48kg category after almost five years, the biggest difference I noticed in terms of opponents was their height. Earlier when I used to participate in this bracket, most of the opponents I faced were either shorter than me or my height. But this time when I switched back, I noticed that women even in 48kg category are taller than me. The good thing however, from my point of view is that I was prepared for it. I may have been absent from the sport for a while but that doesn’t mean that I stopped following or paying attention to the way the sport has evolved. So during my training, I and my coach would conduct extra sessions trying to practice combating taller opponents. Secondly, I believe the boxers have gotten a lot more intelligent and clever in the ring. They are quicker to spot the strength and weakness of their opponents. Not just international boxers, but even the upcoming crop of boxers we have – both male and female – they’re all a lot cleverer than I was.
How far has winning a fifth gold medal in Asian Championships gone in helping your confidence in preparing for next year’s Commonwealth Games and possibly the Tokyo Olympics 2020?
Well I haven’t really given Tokyo a serious thought, but if I were to qualify, I would prefer taking part in the 48kg category. There’s still some time to go so perhaps 48kg will become an Olympic category. But currently my aim is to win gold in next year’s CWG. People question me asking whether I can do it at 35 and although that might put unnecessary pressure on other athletes, it doesn’t really bother me much. I always enjoy myself and do not stress much. Even my method of training is similar. I don’t get worked up much and sometimes train with the music on. So yeah, let me see how the CWG fares and maybe then I can take a call at Tokyo Olympics.
Switching from 48kg to 51kg, then again back to 48 after almost five years. Although it’s just three kilos, how does this transformation works?
It wasn’t really much of a change. Because my actual body weight while I’m training is 48. When not, it’s 49-50. So I never really gave it much thought. Many people question me whether putting those 2-3 kilos hampered my speed or anything of that sort, but let’s face it – with my physique it hardly makes a difference. It’s just that in 48kg, I feel a lot stronger. Even this time when I switched back to 48kgs, it was easier for me to do so because my body works in that way. Contrary to most people, my metabolism works the other way. For me it’s easier for me to lose weight than gain. Shedding a couple of kilos is nothing for a sport as physical as boxing. You train, you sweat and there you are.
A lot has been said about Indian women athletes bringing the nation immense amount of pride. You were one of the originators of this trend when you claimed bronze at the 2012 London Olympics. Do you see the change in people’s expectations back then as compared to now?
I can’t speak for everyone, but yes, the recent accomplishments of women sportsperson in India will definitely put me and the rest under a lot more attention than we ever were. Back when I won in London, not many were expecting a medal from me, but post it expectations rose, and in the last five years, it’s only increased. But what’s important in these circumstances is that you do not let the weight of these expectations get too much in your head. I’m more than happy that Sindhu, Dipa and Sakshi have done the country proud. If nothing else, that has spurred me to contribute more.
Not qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics must have been tough…
I was disappointed but I did not let it affect me much. I never felt that perhaps I don’t deserve to go to the Olympics anymore or that I didn’t have it in me to compete at that level anymore. That was a tough time I’ll admit, with people questioning your worth and stuff like that. But deep inside I believed I was not done. I never felt that it was the end of the world. I never felt I was going to give up. I just kept motivating myself to get back up. Yes, it was the Olympics, but it wasn’t as if it was the last big event I was going to be a part of. Qualifying or not qualifying is part of an athlete’s life but what’s important is to not give up. If you’re down, just remember the time you were at your best and try to attain back than level. That’s what I believed in, and today I have a fifth gold medal. Life works in funny ways.
At 34-35, what are your biggest challenges?
I need to avoid injuries. I don’t feel that I’ve slowed down or my reflexes aren’t as quick like they used to be but once you enter the mid-30s, the bones tend to become slightly weaker and chances of getting injured are more. I have altered my training; not much, just a bit. The core of it has remained the same. Just some minor tweaks here and there. Boxing is a physical sport and you need to maintain your body well. I’m just glad that I never stopped training so that I never had any sort of rust. Had I neglected training, that would have been it.
How do you maintain the balance between training for boxing and the many roles you play off the field?
I can tell you but it’s going to take a while, haha! In a nutshell, once you have your priorities set – and in my case, training – everything else revolves around it. If I have my political/other meetings in the morning, then I train in the evening and vice versa. Example: I flew straight from the Asian Boxing Championships here and today evening I fly to Lausanne for an IOC athletes forum, where I will represent the International Boxing Association. Once I get back from there, I resume training for the CWG. Rest assured, everything will dwarf in front of it.