Mary Kom takes aim at elusive Olympic gold

India's six-time world champion and London 2012 bronze medallist determined to make amends after missing Rio Games.

By Rory Jiwani

Mary Kom has won everything there is to win in amateur boxing, except Olympic gold.

The 35-year-old claimed an unprecedented sixth world title in Delhi last November, and returned to the top of the AIBA light flyweight world rankings earlier this month.

"I have medals from the Olympics, Asian Games, six world titles, Commonwealth Games. But I am still hungry to achieve only one, that is the gold at the Olympics."

Early dominance

Kom has long cited Muhammad Ali as her boxing inspiration.

Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, won light heavyweight gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

Muhammad Ali, known then as Cassius Clay, after winning light heavyweight gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics

When he turned professional, Ali had little trouble moving up to heavyweight with his blistering hand-speed and bulk more than a match for anyone.

But in Kom's case, size really does matter when it comes to her ultimate goal.

Aged 18, she won light flyweight (45-48kg) silver in the first Women's World Amateur Boxing Championships held in Pennsylvania in 2001.

She then went down to the minimum weight class, pinweight (up to 45kg), winning at the next four World Championships in 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2008.

Kom even found time to give birth to twin boys in 2007.

Pinweight was abolished for the next tournament in 2010, forcing Kom to return to light flyweight.

It was a move she took in her stride, beating Romania's Steluta Duta to claim her fifth world title.

Mary Kom has secured her place at the 2020 Olympics

Adams ends Kom's gold hopes

But for women's boxing's Olympic debut at London 2012, flyweight (48-51kg) would be the lightest category.

In preparation, Kom moved up a weight for the 2012 World Championships in Qinhuangdo, China which also served as qualifiers for the Games.

At 1.58m, the Indian was one of the shortest fighters in her new division and regularly out-reached by her opponents.

She reached the quarter-finals to book her place in London but lost out to British fighter Nicola Adams 13-11.

The absence of her American coach Charles Atkinson over a certification issue hindered her preparation in England.

But victories over Poland's world bronze medallist Karolina Michalczuk and Maroua Rahali of Tunisia made sure she would become just the third Indian woman to win an Olympic medal.

Adams awaited again in the semis, and the home favourite prevailed by 11 points to six before going on take gold.

Rio shock and revival

Kom took time out after London and had her third child, another boy, in May 2013.

She returned to action the following year, taking Asian Games gold at flyweight in Incheon.

But a shoulder injury forced her to miss the World Championships.

Two years later, she returned to the Worlds which again doubled up as qualifiers for the Olympic Games.

But she was stunned by Kosovo-born German fighter Azize Nimani in the second round, meaning she would not be in Rio where Adams retained her title.

Plans to retire were quickly shelved, and Kom returned to light flyweight again.

Since then, she has been as good as ever.

She won her fifth Asian Championships title in 2017 before taking gold at the Commonwealth Games as women's boxing made its debut on the Gold Coast last April.

And in November, she claimed a sixth world title on home soil in Delhi.

An inspirational figure

Kom is a true trailblazer in women's sport.

She initially kept her boxing career secret from her father, a former wrestler, who was concerned facial damage would reduce her chances of finding a husband.

A biopic of her early career, entitled 'Mary Kom', was released in 2014 with Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra in the title role.

Her exploits have been praised throughout India with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former cricket star Sachin Tendulkar among those sending congratulations after her latest triumph.

Winning Olympic gold would cap an incredible career.

First, she will have to reach at least the quarter-finals at this year's World Championships in October.

That will be no easy task given her previous difficulties at flyweight which remains the lightest division for Tokyo 2020 despite the addition of two Olympic women's weight categories,

But Kom has spent her life confounding the odds, and it would be foolish to write off 'Magnificent Mary'.