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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Typically Mary Kom, bows out fighting, in last Olympic bout

If Thursday was Mary Kom's last bow, it was a fitting way for her to leave the ring. With high stakes and odds stacked against her, she went down fighting.

Written by Gaurav Bhatt |
Updated: July 29, 2021 10:33:12 pm
Mary Kom bows after the result of her Round of 16 bout is declared (Twitter/TeamIndia)

Who is to question the heart and willpower of Mary Kom? But if Thursday was the last bow, it was a fitting way for her to leave the ring. With high stakes and odds stacked against her, Mary Kom went down fighting.

In the flyweight quarterfinals at Tokyo Olympics, Ingrit Valencia of Colombia beat Mary by a 3-2 split decision. The 38-year-old Indian lost the battle of the bronze-medallists by a razor-thin verdict, despite winning the last two rounds. With the Olympics having an age cap of 40, Thursday’s outing proved to be her last bout at the event.

The result, for all means and purposes, was decided in the first round. The bell rang, and Valencia ran at Mary, almost to prove a point. Had she persisted with the pressure, Mary would have countered her way to victory. But Valencia dropped back after the opening skirmish, and played the waiting game. More than the punches she threw, Valencia impressed with the punches she evaded. The Colombian, through sharp footwork and clever feints, made Mary miss. Mary, on the other hand, whiffed on a combination in the dying seconds, Valencia landed a punch at the bell. And that was that.

Valencia took the first round 4-1. With the open scoring system at the Olympics, the corners know where their boxers stand. The Colombian decided to sit on the lead, but Mary used years of experience and grit to close the gap. The exchanges were even, but there was urgency in her movement. She won the second round on three scorecards.

The stakes were high — but when have they never been. Two years ago, Mary had beaten Valencia in the World Championships quarterfinal to become the most decorated boxer at the event. More importantly, it was the six-time champion’s first Worlds medal in the 51kg Olympic category. The pandemic stole all momentum, leaving Mary older, and slower, by a year.

READ| Tokyo Olympics 2021 Day 6: As it happened

“You have to press if you want to win this,” women’s high performance director Raffaele Bergamasco bellowed at the end of the second round. There was no frustrated crosstalk. Mary nodded, and she pressed. Mouth open, legs and lungs burning, Mary kept bouncing. She kept looking for openings, kept setting traps for the Colombian. Three of the five judges thought she had done enough to win the final round.

But the 4-1 first round was tough to recover from.

Valencia deserves all commendation. A lesser, younger opponent could have been bogged down by the occasion, or could have overcompensated and pressed on the pedal. Valencia, a veteran at 31, matched Mary step for step.

She is the closest Colombia has to a Mary Kom. The nation’s first female boxer at the Olympics took bronze in Rio. She grew up collecting firewood and bananas in Morales and hid from crossfires in the crisis-hit Aguablanca. At 17, she became a mother and traded the headgear for a miners’ helmet, extracting coal for a living.

On Thursday, Valencia celebrated to no end. Several ‘te amo’s’ to her family, followed by a heart gesture just in case her voice didn’t make it through. There are rounds to go and opponents to beat. She still needs one more win to secure her second Olympic medal. But all that could wait. She had just beaten Mary Kom. That’s no less than a medal.

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