NEW DELHI (AFP) – Boxing queen Mary Kom, who has inspired a Bollywood movie on her life, hopes to overcome Olympic heartbreak by proving at the Asian Games that she still packs a mean punch.
The 31-year-old mother-of-three from India’s north-eastern state of Manipur wants to reproduce the form that won her an incredible five world titles in the 46-48kg category between 2002 and 2010.
What should have been Kom’s moment of high glory, when women’s boxing was introduced as a medal sport at the London Olympics in 2012, turned into a personal disappointment that still nags her.
Fighting in a new 51kg flyweight category, Kom narrowly lost to Britain’s Nicola Adams in the semi-finals and was left with a bronze medal in a sport she once dominated.
“I felt I had let the country down,” Kom told AFP while promoting the “Mary Kom” movie starring Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra that was released across India last week.
“Being part of the Olympics was a dream and there I was standing on the podium. But the Indian anthem was not playing. That hurt badly.”
It was the second time in two years that Kom had been relegated to third place. She had to settle for the bronze at the Asian Games in Guangzhou after losing to home favourite Ren Cancan in the semi-finals.
The disappointed Kom devoted more time to family life and she and her husband Onler were blessed with a third son in May last year following the birth of twins in 2007.
Fears that Kom was past her best were raised when she failed to qualify for the Commonwealth Games this year after losing in the trials to a younger opponent, Pinky Jangra.
But Kom, dubbed “Magnificent”, “Queen” and even “Holy” by India’s media, proved her critics wrong last month by beating Jangra to book her place at the Asian Games, where she wants to win more laurels for her country.
“One thing I don’t do is give up, I love to fight against the odds,” said Kom. “It’s nothing new. I have been doing it all my life.”
Kom, who named her autobiography “Unbreakable”, has come a long way since growing up as the child of an uneducated labourer in a Manipuri village, constantly being told not to take up boxing because it could ruin her looks.
Kom tried her hand at track and field before settling for boxing, inspired by the gold-medal winning feat of a fellow Manipuri, Dingko Singh, at the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok.
Her other childhood idols included the legendary Muhammad Ali and his boxing daughter Laila. “I realised women’s boxing was a serious sport even if it was not taken seriously in India,” she said.
Kom is one of India’s most decorated women having won the country’s highest sporting award, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, in 2009 followed by the third highest civilian award, the Padma Bhushan, in 2013.
To ensure the hardships she faced as a young boxer did not discourage others, she started the Mary Kom Boxing Academy in Manipur’s capital Imphal which provides free training to underprivileged children.
Kom said she was amused and taken by surprise when a Bollywood producer approached her about the movie.
“I did not think my life was so interesting,” Kom laughed. “I just hope the film inspires young people to take up sports. Not just boxing, but any sport.”
She later admitted she was “disappointed” the film would not be screened in Manipur because separatist rebels threaten violent reprisals against theatre-owners who show Hindi films.