Mary Kom strengthens CWG prep with India Open title


Considering the body of work she has put together, the gold medal Mary Kom won on Thursday evening at the inaugural India Open boxing championships doesn't count for much. It can't hope to compare to the bucketload of medals she has won at the Asian and World levels. And, of course, there is that Olympic bronze.

Yet, for Mary, who beat Josie Gabuco of the Philippines 4-1 at New Delhi's Thyagraj Stadium, there is meaning even in this minor title -- the latest in a career that began nearly two decades ago. "It's simply a matter of habit," she says. "For me every match is important. I cannot bear to lose. When I don't perform, I start to wonder what people will think. I can't let that happen."

But Mary has a more immediate reason to find meaning in this title, too. She is a few months into another comeback. She has made comebacks before too -- after injuries and the birth of her children. This latest one came after she failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics and seemed to have settled into a political and administrative role. Kom, though, made the decision to compete once again, aided no doubt by the fact that the 48kg category -- the one she naturally fought for most of her career -- was reintroduced in women's boxing.

There remains some unfinished business after all. Mary has never won a medal at the Commonwealth Games, having been beaten to a place in the Indian team for the 2014 edition. She isn't leaving anything to chance this time. While the squad for the 2018 edition in Australia has not been named, few doubt Kom will claim the 48kg category spot on the roster.

She was already in red-hot form heading into this tournament. Last year she won her fifth gold medal at the Asian Championships. The goal remains Queensland though. "This tournament is a form of training for the Commonwealth Games," she says. "This is included in that. This gives me the chance for sparring with good-quality boxers."

In the ring at the Thyagaraj Stadium though, Mary was hardly challenged. While she's definitely slower than what she was at her peak, she's still the fastest counterpuncher in this field, with her opponents left chasing shadows. And as long as she has that self-belief, it matters little what the naysayers say. It doesn't bother her when people point at her age -- she's 35, more than twice the age of some of her Indian compatriots. Some have remarked that she is holding onto her place on the basis of her past laurels.

Mary admits at times that the barbs hurt. "Sometimes I feel bad because I think I should be supported as long as I continue," she says. "I don't want to simply box because I want to travel for some competition. I always want to win a medal. But I can't do anything about that. So I let others say what they want to say and I will do what I have to do."

But Mary admits she is close to the end of her career. So she has a few targets in mind. "I will continue to box until I can," she says. "If I feel I can continue, I will. Ek do saal aur khelna chahungi (I'd like to play for another one or two years)."

The 2020 Olympics in Tokyo would land squarely in that time frame. The tournament would certainly be the perfect swansong for Mary. But she is realistic about her chances. "The Olympics is there in my mind, but it also depends on whether I stay injury-free," she says. "If my body allows it, I would like to stay on till Tokyo Games."