Mary Kom thought she had won – when she raised her arms in the ring, hugged her opponent, bowed, fist-pumped her coach, spoke to the media. The Indian was convinced she was the winner.
“When they took me for a dope test, Chhote (Lal, Mary’s coach) was telling me, ‘We have lost 3-2 but to me, you are a winner, don’t worry’,” Mary said, almost three hours after her bout against Colombia’s Ingrit Valencia. “I asked him, ‘what do you mean by that? I have won, no?’ It was at that point I realised I had lost. Then, I got notification of a tweet by (union minister) Kiren Rijiju sir, and I thought, ‘oh my God, what happened?’”
What seems to have happened is a series of misunderstandings in what eventually turned out to be Mary’s last Olympic bout.
Mary was up against Rio bronze medallist Valencia in her Round-of-16 bout at the Kokugikan Arena. It was a close, at times cagey, affair with neither boxer really going all out. Out of the three rounds, Mary won two. Yet, when the scores of the individual referees were tallied, Valencia had more points and after a dramatic pause, the red corner – Valencia – was declared the winner.
Owing to Covid-19 protocols, however, the referees are not raising the arms of the winners while their names are announced, like they did in the past. So, the referee just pointed at Valencia. Mary did not see that and she, too, raised her arms after the announcement and subsequently, Valencia, too, raised her opponent’s arm.
Mary smiled, hugged the Colombian, bowed to the crowd of volunteers and journalists, and stepped out of the ring in a celebratory mood. At that time, it was seen as a gracious exit from the ring, considering this was her last Olympic bout – by the time the Paris Games will take place, Mary would have turned 40 and will be ineligible to compete.
The Indian legend then walked through the ‘mixed zone’, an intimate area right next to the field of play where athletes and journalists communicate. Indian women’s boxing’s high-performance director Raffaele Bergamasco came first and said even though he had reservations over the decision to award the bout to the Colombian boxer, he wasn’t bitter about it. “Of course, I will be biased towards my boxer. So I understand the decision,” he said.
Moments later, Mary appeared in the basement of the arena. She was cheerful throughout the conversation: she had nice things to say about Valencia, with whom she has occasionally sparred; spoke about the challenges of juggling different responsibilities – as an athlete, mother and Member of Parliament; and wondered if she will be allowed to compete at the next Olympics.
At that point, it felt more like she was looking back at her career fondly instead of looking forward to another outing in the Tokyo ring. But then, she was whisked away to the dope-control room, where she eventually learnt that she hadn’t won the bout.
“In my mind, I thought I had won. The bout was not too close also. First round, I don’t know why it was 4-1 (in Valencia’s favour); there was no fighting, there were no clear punches… I won the second and third rounds so when two rounds are mine, I should win. Why should they give it to her?” Mary questioned. For the record, when points given by each judge were individually tallied, Valencia won 3-2 by split decision.
But Mary did not seem convinced. Named by the International Olympic Committee’s Task Force as one of the athlete ambassadors for these Games, Mary said she will consider resigning from that position after Thursday’s ‘unfair’ decision.
“I will definitely raise this issue after some time… now I don’t think it’s the right time because I am not in control of my emotions after realising I haven’t won,” she said. “I gave a suggestion to the members of the task force to have free and fair judges in big games. I pointed this out all the time. Now, I don’t know why I have received this kind of unfair judgment. So, I will maybe give my resignation and no longer be a part of the task force.”
Mary, however, said she won’t hang her gloves just yet, even though these might be her last Olympics. “I have time till 40. There will be competitions like the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, so I will keep fighting till then.”