If I'm super fit till 2020, I will compete: Mary Kom

Susan Ninan in Gold Coast4 Minute Read

The gold was no surprise. After all this is Mary Kom we are talking about. But this one was still special. The five-time world and Asian champion had never won a Commonwealth Games medal before, so when she hopped on to the podium on her debut appearance, hands raised in the air, smile reaching her eyes, the crowd joined in celebrating this 35-year-old, mother-of-three's moment.

She also became the first Indian woman boxer to win a gold medal at the Games.

It was a unanimous decision by all five judges in Mary's favour. She kept it tight right from the first round against Northern Ireland's Kristina O'Hara, blocking attacks on the right and counterattacking. Moving into the final round, Mary turned more aggressive, with her quick feints and weaves and hooks getting closer together.

The stands were dotted with flags, the chants laced with patriotic fervor grew loud and persistent, and even the locals could tell that there was a star in the ring. So total was her support that O'Hara might have felt slighted. You could see even the usually stoic, radio-toting volunteers hold up clenched fists and throw mild punches into the air. Every hook Mary landed under the white lights set against the darkened spectators' gallery drew wild applause and whistles.

After her bout, she walked in smiling -- hair soaked in sweat and pulled back in a plait -- to a swarm of waiting media persons. Foreign journalists who'd heard enough of her legacy were now eager to hear her speak. She panted her way through the answers in halting English and was only relieved to switch to the comfort of Hindi with the Indian media later.

"My fitness and speed are the secrets to my success," she said. "I also plan well before bouts."

For O'Hara, a promising defender who picked boxing over an opportunity for trials with English football club Nottingham Forest, it must have been about not letting the legend and experience of Mary Kom get in the way. "I had known this girl [O'Hara] because I've had a friendly match with her [at the National Stadium in Dublin last September]," Mary said. "I knew her game plan well. I told myself that it is easy but I had to be prepared for everything."

Mary Kom reacts after beating Northern Ireland's Kristina O'Hara in the women's 45-48kg boxing final at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images

She didn't jump to any retirement announcements. But there was a certain finality in her tone when spelling out future plans. The Tokyo Olympics are still two years away. Her weight category won't be part of the Games either. Switching class and adding weight at her age is a lot to ask for. "I don't have injuries," she said. "All I have is minor issues like cramps some time. If I am super fit till 2020, I will compete. But if I am not fit, I will not. I will try my best but it's difficult to say. Putting on weight is not easy."

She admitted though that she misses not having an Olympic gold. "I still think about Olympics gold but other than that I have got everything," she said. "Even in Olympics, I do have a medal. I haven't left out anything."

For Mary, whose hand speed has slowed down a bit with age, her drive for sapping training sessions remains unchanged. She has returned from childbirth, the disappointment of not qualifying for the Rio Olympics, adjusted to the mandated weight divisions and says not training can make her "feel sick". "When I decide something with my head and heart then even my husband cannot stop me," she said. "He sometimes tells me to take it easy after competition, but I can't help it. I have to train to keep myself calm. It's a strong urge, it's a habit and training makes me happy."

For a boxing superstar -- the kind that kids have blu-tacked to their cupboard walls -- Mary didn't mind sounding a touch pompous. "I'm very happy that I created history," she said. "I've won everything and each of them are important. Do I need to say more? Which boxer can claim that?"

Once she'd freed herself from media obligations, she rushed to meet India's sports minister, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who was in attendance for her bout. He slid the medal over her lowered head and confirmed if this was actually her first Commonwealth Games medal. She nodded, fingers locked in a clasp and probably wondered why it took her so long.