Sushila Devi Likmabam: How the Indian judoka overcame Covid-19 crisis to qualify for Tokyo 2020

Indian judoka Sushila Devi Likmabam will be making her maiden appearance at the Olympics in Tokyo 2020.
By Samrat Chakraborty

Sushila Devi Likmabam has come a long way since the thoughts of giving up on the sport struck her after an injury laid her low during the 2018 Asian Games trials. She could barely walk then but it was her coach Jiwan Sharma who motivated her to start from scratch in 2019.

And a few years after that, her hard work and perseverance paid off as she is set to become India's lone representative in judo at Tokyo 2020. But the path to her maiden Olympic appearance was laid with hurdles, which she was not responsible for creating.

The 26-year-old was deal with a major blow when the entire judo contingent had to withdraw from the Asia-Oceania Olympic qualifiers in the Kyrgyzstan capital, Bishkek, after two players tested positive for COVID-19. Among the 15 players and four coaches traveling with the national team, it was Ajay Yadav (73 kg) and Ritu Verma (52 kg), who returned positive in their fourth test.

"First the entire team was turned away from the competition area and then we were asked to leave our hotel and shifted to another accommodation," the Indian judoka told ESPN.

Sushila Devi Likmabam in action
Picture by International Judo Federation

To make situations worse, the entire Indian team had slept on empty stomach the previous night, before the Indian embassy came to their rescue in the morning. It was tough for Sushila, personally, as she came to the qualifiers with the thought of giving her best.

"Tension bhi ho raha hai aur dukh bhi (We're feeling both tense and sad)," she said.

It was further more mentally challenging for her as she is paying off a loan of INR 4 lakh from her salary of INR 25000 per month. She, however, didn't lose hope during the Covid-19 enforced lockdown as she called up a junior national judoka to her home in Imphal to train with her. Not only that, she, also agreed to bear all the expenses of her sparring partner and her family.

But all her determination to go through the odds were paid off when the International Judo Federation (IJF), confirmed her entry to Tokyo 2020, in the women’s extra-lightweight (48kg) division via a continental quota. She is one of the two highest-ranked Asians outside the top 18 on the Olympic Game Quota (OGQ) Rankings.

Her sole focus on Saturday, when she takes to the Olympic mat against Hungary's Eva Csernoviczki, will be to script a memorable story. But she will have a tough task on her hands against the London 2012 bronze medallist.