Mary Kom's sixth World Championships gold shows fire to excel still rages in her belly despite multiple setbacks

G Rajaraman
In the 17 years since that maiden medal in Scranton, United States, Mary claimed her sixth gold medal and increased the distance between herself and the rest of the boxing universe.

It was obvious that the little girl was leaving the KD Jadhav Stadium quite reluctantly. Her mother had persuaded her and her cousins to exit the portals of the stadium. But spotting a journalist, a camera slung over his shoulder, she shuffled up to him and asked him if he believed Mary Kom would have left the stadium and if she would have a chance to getting an autograph.

It is a good bet that this girl, stars in her eyes, was not even born when the Manipuri won her first World Championship medal back in 2001. But watching the legendary boxer win India's only gold medal in the AIBA Women's World Boxing Championships in Delhi on Saturday, the teenager left the stadium, inspired by what she saw of Mary, her heart swelling with pride.

In the 17 years since that maiden medal in Scranton, United States, Mary claimed her sixth gold medal and increased the distance between herself and the rest of the boxing universe. Of course, she was already in a league of her own before Saturday when the arena rent with chants of "Mary-Mary" and "India-India" as she beat Ukraine's Hanna Okhota with a unanimous verdict.

It is a tribute to the 35-year-old's ability to keep the fire in her belly raging for so long €" through marriage, child-birth and a bitter rivalry with Pinky Rani Jangra. Many would have given up competing at this level, content with filling the trophy shelf with such richness. But not Mary. Driven by a desire to add that Olympic Games gold, she has stayed on course, hungry as ever.

Indeed, when you saw Mary enter the ring and win all her bouts in her ninth appearance in the AIBA Women's World Championships, you could sense a personification of what the venerated Muhammad Ali said: "Champions are not made in the gym. Champions are made from something deep inside them €" a desire, a dream, a vision."

Okhota conceded before the final that it would be hard to beat Mary in front of the rapturous crowd and yet fought hard to make an impression on the judges. It needed the Indian to draw on all her maturity to find that balance between scoring points and staying out of harm's way, expending energy smartly and with the immeasurable wisdom that experience brings along.

There was a child-like joy at the opportunity to compete in the 48kg class again this week. After she won her fifth World Championship title in Bridgetown, Barbados, back in 2010, she had to compete in the 51kg class without getting close to a medal in the World Championships. In 2012, she lost in the quarter-finals to Britain's Nicola Adams in Qinhuangdao, China.

She lost the Olympic Games semi-final to Nicola Adams in London later that year. Mary missed the 2014 edition in Jeju City, South Korea, due to a wrist injury. Returning in 2016, with an eye on the Olympic Games later that year, she left the 48kg class spot to Sarjubala Devi and lost to Germany's Azize Nimani in the second round in the 51kg class in Astana, Kazakhstan.

To make it worse, her immediate rival €" Pinki, who had beaten her in the Commonwealth Games 2014 trials €" not only snapped at her heels, but also charged Mary with lacking humility. Even Railways, where Pinki is employed, raised its voice in seeking a chance for her to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games.

Mary, who had lost to China's Ren Cancan in the semi-finals of the Asia-Pacific Olympic qualifiers, bounced back and won the Asian Championships in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam last year and the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast earlier this year. She chose to not vie for the 51kg slot in the Asian Games in Jakarta, instead gearing up for the World Championships in Delhi.

She has already created an unmatched legacy. With women from more nations taking to boxing competitively, it would be tough for anyone to even come close to matching her feat of winning six gold among seven medals in the World Championships. Come to think of it, she has won more World Championship medals than many nations have managed in 10 editions.

It would be futile to compare her with male boxers who have won multiple world crowns. Suffice to say, there is no question that she will be a role model for all time to come. It is time for India to enshrine her legacy with a Mary Kom Award to the nation's best sportswoman in Olympic sport each year at the National Sports Awards.

Now, whether that happens or not, one thing is for sure. Mary will be relentless in her pursuit of that one elusive dream: an Olympic gold medal. She would be 37 in 2020, but it is hard to imagine her put her gloves away without giving that goal one more shot. She has already inspired more than a whole generation of Indians with her exploits. And she continues to do that in her own way.

She is a lot of things €" daughter, wife, mother, social change engineer, Member of Parliament. But sports lovers believe she was born to be a boxer, with insatiable desire and the innate gift of seizing the moment and making it her own. That is the reason that long after Mary's fight on Saturday evening, a young girl was reluctant to leave the stadium without first getting her autograph.

Also See: Women's World Boxing Championships: MC Mary Kom beats Hanna Okhota to become joint-most successful boxer in tournament history

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