Amateur women’s boxing was introduced for the first time at the Summer Olympics in 2012 and Mary Kom was already a legend going into it.
The Indian boxer had won five gold medals and a silver at the AIBA World Boxing Championship at that point, making her the most successful boxer in the history of the women’s world championships.
Mary Kom was also a four-time gold medallist at the Asian Championships, with her fourth title coming a few months before the 2012 Olympic Games.
Despite all this success, she was still on the periphery when compared to more popular sportspersons in India.
However, all that changed on the evening of August 8, 2012, as Mary Kom became the first Indian woman boxer to win an Olympic medal, claiming bronze in the 51kg category.
It was a historic achievement which added more lustre to an already glowing medal cabinet and was more than just reward for a gritty Manipur lass who aimed for the stars ever since she put on the boxing gloves.
The rise to international recognition
Initially interested in athletics, Mary Kom switched to boxing as she found her inspiration from another Manipuri puglisit Dingko Singh who won gold at the 1998 Asian Games.
Her coach at the time, K Kosana Meitei noticed Mary’s spark and acumen to pick up the basics of boxing.
Mary Kom's love for the sport only grew deeper and she first created waves in 2000, winning both the Manipur State Boxing Championship and the West Bengal Regional Championship.
In 2001, at just 18 years old, Mary Kom won silver in the 48kg category at the AIBA women’s World Boxing Championship in Scranton, USA.
Although she was easily outboxed in the final by Hulya Sahin, a much more experienced opponent, Mary Kom had announced her arrival on the international stage.
It also began Mary’s well-documented love story with the boxing world championships.
Mary Kom’s Olympic medal feat
Women’s boxing was making its debut at the London 2012 Olympics and India had its hopes pinned on Mary Kom, who incidentally was also the only female Indian boxer to make the Olympic cut in that edition.
Another hurdle for Mary Kom was that she was forced to move up a weight category to fight in the 51kg (flyweight) as the world body decided to allow women’s boxing in only three weight categories.
However, none of it seemed to affect the legendary Indian boxer.
Making her Olympic bow against Poland's Karolina Michalczuk, a taller and physically imposing opponent, Mary Kom was clever with her footwork and grew in confidence as the bout went on and beat the Polish boxer 19-14 to progress to the quarter-final.
The Indian boxer had a tight first round against Tunisia’s Maroua Rahali, but was relentless with her attacks in the second and landed two brutal right hooks in the deciding round to enter the semi-finals.
As it turned out, Mary Kom fell at the penultimate stage to home favourite Nicola Adams, who eventually went on to win gold.
However, the Olympic bronze medal had elevated her to a superstar level and more importantly, had liberated and given her a sense of freedom.
"The Olympic medal changed my life because I am able to do what I want now."
More success followed for Mary Kom after that momentous achievement.
The Indian boxer won a gold medal at the Asian Games in 2014, to add to her bronze four years prior and went on to add a fifth Asian Championships gold in 2017.
‘Supermom’ Mary Kom pocketed a maiden Commonwealth Games gold in April 2018 and a few months later, won a record sixth world title at home in New Delhi, surpassing Irishwoman Katie Taylor’s record of five.
It was also her seventh World Championship medal, the most by any female boxer and Mary Kom added an eighth with a bronze at the 2019 World Boxing Championships in Ulan-Ude, Russia.
Having failed to make the cut for Rio 2016, Mary Kom secured a berth for the Tokyo Olympics in March 2020 and went into the Summer Games high on confidence after winning a silver at the 2021 Asian Championships.
Mary Kom's Olympic hurrah, however, ended in the second round after a defeat to Colombia’s Ingrit Valencia - a Rio bronze medallist. With Mary Kom set to be 42-years-old by the time Paris 2024 rolls in, she won’t be able to participate in the Summer Games in France unless the rules change.