Bravery medal in guise of an Olympic bronze

Women boxing’s poster girl Mary goes down in semis but not without a fight

Written by Shivani Naik | London | Published: August 9, 2012 1:44:26 am

With every blow struck by that howitzer of a counter-puncher,Nicola Adams of Great Britain,in the semifinals of the women’s flyweight against Mary Kom,slight and petite,comes the prickly realisation that the Indian was taking some of the most vicious blows on her person,to get a medal for self and her country. All things stated,the diminutive Manipuri had no business daring Adams,a 51kg division strut-machine who started like a brawler and ended like a stinging wasp queen.

In the course of her 11-6 defeat,Chungneijang Mary Kom Hmangte knew by Round 1 that she was in trouble — as Adams’ bullying uppercuts were aimed at denying her any space,even as her own defiant high blocks were being blunted into turning submissive. Far too often,Mary’s own punches grazed her opponent’s breath but couldn’t connect as she desperately overextended her smaller reach. Twice in the course of the match,Mary was bulldozed to the ropes as the looming figure of Adams stomped in her frontal vision,getting bigger with every passing minute. Mary trailed 1-3 at the end of the first round,and then 2-5 post the second – a lead that put the Indian on the most abject of defensives.

It’s bad enough to not dictate,but life can feel pretty much like a slaughter-house steel table top if time’s ticking hauntingly. Yet,in launching one of her bravest counter-offensives,Mary displayed great feet as she combined a foxtrot dancer’s back-forth movements with her hand-punching sought the clean hits that owing to Nicola’s wild sway-weaving were proving elusive. You worry for the shoulder in such cases,as the human body isn’t fitted in with a spring,but Mary Kom with a jab holding fort,almost dived into combinations that brought her close but not quite,as identical 2-3 rounds saw her plunge to a decisive 6-11 defeat.

“I knew my weakness,” she conceded,an understatement – almost kamikaze in its import,for in the second round there came that moment when she knew the punches would floor her if she didn’t pause and stand still. A wait,where Adams decided to stab in. “And she just launched into counters,when I waited,she’d pounce. I think I did well in the third and fourth but there were just no points,” she said later,her hands thrown up in the air,the face having lost the battle of deciding whether she should smile or cry.

Her mother cried in the stands,for despite supporting her brave girl’s choice of profession,no parent can sit still and watch the kid cop a hammering. Mary’s husband shielded their sons from watching her beat back a crushing. All that advice of do your best,and enjoy the fight must have sounded silly. But Mary Kom went out all blazing,cornered and beaten,shorter than her rival,but never shy of punching.

As she took the pounding,what Mary Kom’s bronze meant for India,was unavoidable. You ought to worry seriously if words like ‘revolution in women’s boxing’ or ‘inspiring a generation’ get tagged to Mary Kom’s unique and gritty journey that culminated in the bronze.

Karnam Malleswari’s weightlifting bronze at the turn of the century didn’t translate into you and your neighbour comparing notes on your respective daughters’ latest clean ‘n jerk and snatch scores,or worrying over the future of their vulnerable knees as a result of all that heavy-duty lifting. Talk is still about the best math tuition classes and cut-offs for engineering seats,12 years after Sydney.

Ditto for Mary Kom,who’s not really expected to send the country’s urban middle class into a frenzy over a new career possibility. The podium moment is going to choke a few throats,but the country’s next batch of women boxers for Rio will still come from the gym nooks of Punjab and Haryana,villages of Kerala and Goa,the established hubs in Manipur and Nasik.

One answer to the question of the meaning of the medal that arrived at the end of the pounding,and by no means the only one,was provided by Charles Atkinson,Mary’s English coach who comes from Liverpool. “Another venue,another opponent,and the result could’ve been different,” stated . “Mary’s a role model because she knew what she was up against,and never told me it was a difficulty. Be proud,India.”

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