The Commonwealth Games in Birmingham was to be a celebratory farewell parade for six-time world champion Mary Kom. Now the 39-year-old, five months short of her 40th birthday, which is the cut-off age for amateur boxing at major events, could walk into the sunset without a final testimonial tournament podium photo.
Fate had a cruel twist in store for the boxing legend.
At the trials for the CWG, the London Olympics bronze medalist lost her footing early as she swayed away in the first round of the semifinals (48 kg) against two-time Youth Olympics champion Ritu Ghanghas. Mary shrieked as she fell and slowly got back on her feet. But she struggled to move freely, was in pain again and clutched her knee. Had she continued, it would have been foolhardy.
Nitu was declared the winner via referee-stops-contest. The anticipated bout between the 21-year-old upcoming star and a veteran nearly double her age came to a premature end.
Best of Express Premium
Soon Mary limped out of the IG Stadium with support, got into her SUV and left. areer. But once she overcame the disappointment of a pre-quarterfinal exit at the Tokyo Olympics, her competitive spirit had been rekindled. She had trained, first in Manipur and then in Delhi, like she had everything to prove. The CWG was a clear target in her mind.
🚨 Limited Time Offer | Express Premium with ad-lite for just Rs 2/ day 👉🏽 Click here to subscribe 🚨
Over a two-decade long career, Mary had always overcome the odds, made comebacks after motherhood and bounced back from injury to win medals at the highest level. She had skipped the World Championship trials to make way for younger boxers. But at nearly 40, her knee let her down when she wanted one final shot at glory in the ring.
Just two days ago Mary had posted a weight training video of her on Twitter with the caption: If you want a good result, TRAIN HARDER.
— M C Mary Kom OLY (@MangteC) June 8, 2022
Chhote Lal Yadav, her long-time coach, says there was no hype in her social media post. She had sparred against boxers in higher-weight categories ahead of the trials.
“She would train and spar against those who were in the 54 kg and 57 kg category. She had been working really hard to prepare for the Commonwealth Games trials. She didn’t have any injury issues currently. In training, she had shown the hunger to give her best. She trained smartly because she had to be mindful of her age. Mentally too she was positive,” Chhote Lal said.
To keep an unwavering focus on training, Mary, a mother of three, took the difficult decision to cut down on family time.
— M C Mary Kom OLY (@MangteC) May 19, 2022
Once her term as Rajya Sabha MP ended recently, she moved to the hostel at the IG Stadium as her training intensified and the CWG trails got closer. “She took the decision to stay away from her children. It was not easy for her,” Chhote Lal added.
Best possible preparations
Among those who were keeping a close eye on the trial bouts was chief national coach Bhaskar Bhatt. Mary, according to Bhatt, was looking good till the injury occurred.
“For the past month and a half, her intensity during training was as high as I have ever seen. But one can’t plan for something like an injury. It can happen to anyone. But in Mary’s case, age is also a factor. I don’t think she has ever had a major knee injury. But at 40, such things can happen even if you train as hard as you want and prepare well,” Bhatt said.
Do or do not.There is no try. There is no shortcuts. ONLY HARD WORK. pic.twitter.com/LSoFbVJzhN
— M C Mary Kom OLY (@MangteC) May 10, 2022
It was too early in the bout to make a judgement on who the better boxer was on the day — Mary or Nitu? “Mary has all the experience and she is very smart in the ring. She would have only expended as much energy as was needed. Nitu is a very good boxer too and is the future. It would have been a good bout. But it is unfortunate how it ended” the chief national coach said.
Nitu will fight Manju Rani in the final on Saturday for a place in the Commonwealth Games squad.
As for Mary, there was no official communication on the nature of the injury. Chhote Lal said a clearer picture would emerge once Mary’s injury assessment is complete in a day. “Hopefully, it is not as bad as it looks. I don’t know what Mary has in mind (future competition), but this can’t be the way she leaves a ring for the last time. Her story deserves a good ending.” A final waltz around the ring where she danced all her life on quick feet, not a plume of smoke left behind by a retreating SUV.