How did Mary Kom celebrate after becoming the first woman boxer to win six gold medals at the World Championships? Sitting on the ringside steps, huddled with coaches, she cried. And the more the crowd cheered, the more the tears flowed. “We tried telling her, it’s okay. Calm down. Take deep breaths,” says coach Chhote Lal Yadav. “But she couldn’t. She said ‘Mujhse control nahi ho pa raha hai (I am not able to control it).”
Mary (35) registered a 5-0 win in the 48-kg category over Hanna Okhota of Ukraine to tie with Cuban legend Felix Savon’s haul — he won all his six medals in the men’s heavyweight division. But instead of the usual celebration routine, of bowing to the crowd and making her way down to the presentation ceremony, Mary was overwhelmed by the moment. “She told me, ‘this is all for India’,” says Yadav. “The crowd, the atmosphere got to her, but it was more about performing in front of her people”.
When Mary won her last Worlds medal in 2010, she wasn’t the Olympic-medallist and subject-of-a-biopic then. The one in Delhi, 2006, came even earlier, when female amateur boxers were fighting for relevance worldwide. “Wahan toh main aaya tha, cheer karne (I was there, to cheer),” laughs Yadav. “Not many people came to support the boxers in 2006. It was completely different today.”
On Saturday, those present at the KD Jadhav indoor hall at the Indira Gandhi Stadium didn’t disappoint. Seated well before the scheduled 4 pm match began, the crowd cheered loudly. That it was the opening contest didn’t hurt either. As the bout drew closer, the chants grew louder, drowning out the shouting emcee and the shrill ‘U-ka-ri-na’ chant from the Ukrainian contingent. And then Mary took the ring, against a 22-year-old she had defeated two months ago.
Ahead of the final, Okhota dismissed questions on whether she considered Mary her role model. “(Vasyl) Lomachenko,” she responded, naming the compatriot professional star instead. “My dream is to meet him.” On Saturday, she met another elegant, elusive southpaw. What began as a cagey affair soon evolved into a fascinating contest of counter-boxing, with both finalists taking turns feinting and initiating the short exchanges. But Mary took the lead, with a five-punch combination to end the round — a tried-and-tested ploy of finishing with a flurry.