Back when MC Mary Kom fell short of qualifying for Rio Olympics 2016, many believed that it would be the end of the road for the Indian boxing legend. By that time, the Olympic bronze medalist was already 33 and competing in the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics 2020 would mean she would be 37.

She turned 38 in November last year, but the tenacity and hunger shown by the veteran matched that of a rookie and has borne fruit as she will be one of India’s flag bearers at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics before getting in the ring to compete.

“For so many years I have been fighting. I have won so many medals. But I have not won an Olympic gold. That has been my dream. I am still not satisfied with what I have achieved,” Mary Kom told the New Indian Express.

For someone who is a six-time World Champion and has an Olympic bronze, there’s absolutely nothing to prove. That said, Kom herself doesn’t see things that way and wants to continue her quest for Olympic gold and she’s willing to go through the rigours that come with such a pursuit.

Mary Kom, of course, is no stranger to hardships. The 38-year-old has fought stereotypes all her life and had to train with male boxers to work on her technique.

“Boxing is mostly considered a man’s sport,” she said in an online video interaction for Unacademy. “So initially when I started boxing, it was very difficult. There would be one or two girls training apart from me so I had to train with boys.”

Rise to glory

It didn’t take long for her to assert her authority on the international circuit. In 2001, she finished with a silver medal at the World Championship and there’s been no looking back since.

Between 2002 to 2010, Mary Kom went on to bag as many as five gold medals at the World Championship. During the same time, she won three gold medals at the Asian Championships.

As of 2021, the Indian pugilist is the most successful women’s boxer in the World Championship, winning six gold medals. She has, in fact, won eight medals (6 Gold, 1 Silver and 1 Bronze) in a total of 11 World Championships.

There are other accolades too. In 2014, she became the first Indian woman boxer to win a gold medal at the Asian Games. Four years later, she achieved a similar feat, this time at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Her resume boasts a whopping 19 international medals (13 gold, 3 silver and 3 bronze).

Despite all those golds though, her crown jewel remains the flyweight bronze medal that she won at the 2012 London Olympics; the year when women’s boxing made its debut in the Olympic Games. She was the only Indian woman boxer to compete in that event.

One last hurrah

And heading into Tokyo 2020, it’s safe to assume that the upcoming Games will be her last shot at realising her dream of winning Olympic gold. Despite being on the wrong side of 30, the fire in Mary Kom’s belly to fight, compete and win still burns brightly.

“The hunger for boxing is stronger than ever and only getting intense,” she was quoted by Olympic Channel. “Training and keeping fit under these trying times in itself is the biggest celebration for the sport,” she added.

Her desire, dedication and discipline to continue still remains unparalleled and perhaps that’s what separates the greats from the rest. One of India’s most revered athletes at Tokyo 2020, Mary Kom is certain to attract attention, but she is used to working under such pressure situations.

Having achieved almost everything that the sport has to offer, watching her winning Olympic gold will be the cherry on top of what’s been an inspiring and era-defining career. It would be the perfect swansong befitting her legendary career.

Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, but irrespective of the result, she can be safe in the knowledge that the Tokyo Games will be just another chapter in her rich and awe-inspiring legacy in Indian boxing.

Author: Swapnil Bhopatkar

Featured photo: Boxing Federation of India