You are the only woman Indian boxer to have qualified for the London Olympics. What would you attribute that to?
To a lot of belief and confidence in myself, a very clearly articulated goal of what I want to do in the Olympics and a huge amount of sweat and hard work, all of which are complemented by the loving and unstinting support of my family, without whom I would not have achieved even a fraction of what I have.
You are looked upon as India’s best chance for a medal. Does that put added pressure on you?
Bringing home an Olympic medal has been my personal goal for many years and I am trying my best to achieve that goal. It is flattering to be rated as India’s best chance for a medal at London and I certainly hope that I can justify this billing, make my country proud of me and allow my country to stand at the same level as so many others that have so far done better than us at sport. Yes, there is an element of pressure to this expectation, but for the most part, it turns into motivation that pushes me harder and further rather than bogging me down.
What are your goals for the London Olympics?
My goal is to bring home a medal for the country from the London Olympics. I will do everything I can while I am training for the Games and then once I am there to give my 100 per cent shot at turning this medal into a golden one. Which would be the first time that an individual Indian athlete would win gold in a sport outside shooting and also, I believe, the first time that a female Indian athlete would bring home a medal. In any event, I want to make sure that India maintains its status as an emerging superpower in the boxing ring as well and that I give everyone I come up against, be it Ren (Cancan from China) or Nicola (Adams of the UK), a match that they will never forget.
How did you train for the Olympics?
Training went off well. We concentrated on several aspects, including stamina, strength, speed and additional tactics that I will need against taller boxers. I believe that I am the fittest I have been in a long time and am certain that the effort that has gone into building my fitness to these levels will allow me to compete aggressively throughout a bout, irrespective of the opponent that I am facing.
In terms of preparation, have you done anything different for the Olympics?
For the most part, I did what I have done throughout my career and built on that for the Olympics. My strengths have always been speed and aggression and my team and I tried to ensure that any additional strengths are built on top of these two fundamentals. I am training harder, running longer, punching harder, concentrating harder because to me this is the most important event I would ever have participated in. We are also putting in place strategies to fight taller boxers that I will now start facing in this higher weight category (51kg) as I have always fought boxers that are not significantly taller.
Mary Kom with fellow boxer Vijender Singh before leaving for London
How difficult is the shift in weight category (from 48kg to 51 kg)?
For an athlete who is competing regularly, putting on weight is extremely difficult for two reasons — firstly, the calorie outflow is so high that it is difficult to eat as much as would be required for the additional weight and secondly, because it is not simply a matter of putting on weight, but putting on weight without compromising on speed and footwork or becoming sluggish. The weight has to come in the form of muscle in the right places and this is not an immediate but a gradual process. In any event, I have never weighed much or put on weight, so even putting on a few kgs has not been an easy task!
What are those moments before a bout like?
Those moments are really when I come into my own, for the boxing ring is a comfort zone for me. I am a little excited and a little nervous sometimes, but all of this is within the larger framework of peace and certainty that surrounds me before a bout. I know what I have to do to win against that particular opponent, what my strengths are and what her weaknesses are and that is all I concentrate on. It is a good space to be inů.
What is your favourite memory as an Olympic watcher?
l of the medals that I have seen India win across various sports are favourite memories and placing one above the other would not be fair on the outstanding effort and performance of the athletes that won these medals. We all win every time any athlete wins and they have all really made their place in my mind.
What do you think is needed to make more and more Indian girls take up boxing?
ready, it is happening and lots of women are taking up boxing. The amount of talent coming through, including from my own academy (M.C. Mary Kom Boxing Academy in Manipur) is heartening to see and bodes well for the future of the sport in India.
We need a few things to make the sport even more popular — continuous success at the international level (starting hopefully with the London Olympics) which will provide the role models for younger generations, slight changes in parental mindsets that will allow them to see this as a viable professional choice for their daughters, especially from the standpoint of marriage and what society may say, more money flowing into sport to actually make it an attractive and reasonably remunerative career option and lastly, the continuing support of the government in setting up infrastructure and corporate houses in providing additional financial resources to upcoming boxers.