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Dingko my idol: Mary Kom

Calcutta: It was a beautiful October afternoon in the picturesque Turkish port of Antalya last year when Manipur’s Hmangte Chungneijang Mary Kom made her North Korean rival see the stars.

As she landed the stinging, knockout punch on the North Korean girl’s face, Mary Kom knew that apart from becoming the world ladies boxing champion, she had matched her role model, Ngangom Dingko Singh’s feat.

Four years ago, bantamweight star Dingko had returned to Manipur with a gold medal from the Bangkok Asian Games.

“I watched Dingko as people encircled him soon after his arrival in Manipur. Dingko was calm, but enjoying every bit of the people’s adulation. That was when I decided I would one day rule the ring like him,” Mary Kom reminisced, during an interview with The Telegraph on Tuesday afternoon.

The 20-year-old’s story began on her way to and from school. Just like an African boy dreams of becoming a track and field star, Mary Kom chose to dream of setting the ring on fire.

“Unlike other Indian states, boxing is very popular in Manipur and even girls are not averse to the idea of frequenting rings. The school I was admitted to as a primary student was far away from my home, and the communication was not good, as well. So I had to run a long distance to reach school. During our journey, we often threw punches at each other, blissfully unaware that we had to reach school in time,” Mary Kom, also a three-time national champion, grinned.

The Britney Spears fan was a regular fixture at the state championships, though as a spectator. She was later picked by Khoibi Salam, Manipur Boxing Association secretary, as a future hope and there was no looking back after her unparalleled performance in the Manipur National Games.

In Turkey, Mary Kom, a silver medallist in the inaugural world championships in Pennsylvania in 2001, took a brave decision, which proved decisive in the end.

“Earlier, I used to fight in 48 kg category. But it was hampering my feet movement as well as speed. So I put up lot of efforts to reduce myself and finally managed to compete in the 46kg.

“I started feeling rhythmic, my speed increased and more importantly, I was confident,” she said of her lead-up to the Antalya world championships.

The Manipur girl is now aiming for a medal in the Athens Olympics. “I want to achieve an Asian Games gold, like Dingko. Before that, I want an Olympic medal,” she said, brimming with confidence before leaving for New Delhi to be feted for her show in Turkey. “These are my primary goals. If I can achieve them, I may become a pro. I dream about taking on Laila Ali once.”

This may be far-fetched ambition. But life has already come full circle for Mary Kom. For the likes of L. Shushila and W. Sandhyarani, Mary Kom has emerged as an inspiration. “They say, I am their role model. It’s so funny, isn’t it'” the world champion signed off.

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