Mary Kom has a cold. And a slight niggling headache, that makes her massage her temple periodically.
Yet, when the conversation turns to her motivation to keep boxing even at the age of 35, she leaps to her feet, cracks a wide smile and pats her belly. "I'm still hungry for success," she says for the benefit of the gaggle of journalists at a press conference ahead of the Mumbai Marathon, of which she's the event ambassador this year.
With a list of achievements as long as most people's arms, Mary has claimed medals at every possible big-ticket event, including an Olympic bronze, six World Championship golds and a silver.
Yet, for Mary, there's one medal that's remained elusive: an Olympic gold.
"There's nothing left for me to achieve. I've won medals at all the games, including the Olympics," says Mary before correcting herself. "Now there's only one thing left: a gold at the Olympics."
It is this goal, she says, that keeps her going back to the ring despite her other responsibilities – she's a Rajya Sabha MP and a mother of three boys – and despite the chorus of questions people throw at her about retirement.
"My dream is not fulfilled yet. I've seen so many athletes who are satisfied as soon as they achieve a medal. That's not the right way to go about things. People keep saying, 'Mary, you have won all the medals, so what's the need to keep competing?'
They say that I should leave now while I'm at the top, because at some point my level can go down. 'Izzat ka sawaal hai', they say. But I want to allow myself to compete till my body allows. When I can't, I will retire. I know my own body. I also want to retire. I also want to spend time with my family. But not now."
Still basking in the reflected glory of her sixth World Championships gold, won just two months ago, Mary says she will soon start training in earnest for sealing Olympics quota soon.
Ali Qamar, India's first gold medal-winning boxer at the Commonwealth Games, was recently appointed as the national women's boxing coach. Mention him, and Mary's face lights up.
"It's a great step to have him take over as coach. ," says Mary about Qamar, who is just two years older than her and has worked with her for a while.
Training with young boys
When she joins the national camp, Mary plans to start sparring with young boys.
"It's a big challenge (for me to qualify). Even 2012 was a challenge for me. It was my first experience of fighting in 51kg. Then, I missed out on qualifying for Rio Olympics. This time around, I'm planning differently. If possible, I want to get a good training partner, a young boy who is stronger than me. Senior male boxers won't like to train because they will have their own plans. And girls are not strong enough. I mean, they're competitive, but once I understand their game and figure out their style, it's easy for me to beat them. That makes it difficult to go into competitions to fight and win. I will need to (get a young male sparring partner) quickly. Once I qualify (for the Olympics), I know it'll be easy," says Mary.
While Mary's plans for the upcoming year are gaining shape, clouds of uncertainty looming over the fate of the sport itself making it to the roster at Tokyo Olympics. Just a week after the World Championships in New Delhi concluded, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that it had launched an investigation into boxing's world body, AIBA, and put plans for the boxing competition at Tokyo 2020 on hold as a consequence.
IOC has been irked by a host of governance, integrity and financial problems surrounding AIBA, more so after it picked Uzbekistan's Gafur Rakhimov as the president. The US Treasury Department has branded Rakhimov as one of Uzbekistan's 'leading criminals.' Given the background, the IOC could suspend AIBA at a meeting of its Executive Board in June this year. Should that happen, it is unclear who will organise the boxing competition at Tokyo 2020.
"I don't know if boxing will be there or no. But if If boxing is not there, I've already won everything there is to win in the sport, including an Olympic medal. But I'll worry about the upcoming youngsters, because it'll be bad for them. How many years they must have spent chasing this one dream! It's deeply upsetting."
For the moment though Mary will not bother herself with such hypothetical scenarios. The fire in her belly rages too brightly for that.
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Updated Date: Jan 18, 2019 09:22:20 IST