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M.C. Merykom in Mumbai

Minimumweight Mangte Chungneijang Merykom (aka Mary Kom or MC Merykom) is from Kangathei Village, Moirang Lamkhai in rural Manipur, India. Her interest in boxing was inspired by the success of Manipuri male boxer Dingko Singh.

She took to sports in an effort to provide some financial support to her family. "I was initially an all-round athlete, and 400-m and javelin were my pet events. When Dingko Singh returned from Bangkok (Asian Games) with a gold, I thought I should give it a try. Dingko's success triggered a revolution of sort in Manipur and surprisingly I found that I was not the only girl who was drawn into boxing," she said.

She began boxing in 2000 and was a quick learner who preferred to be put through the same paces as the boys around her. "In just two weeks, I had learnt all the basics. I guess I had God-given talent for boxing."

She initially tried to keep her interest in the sweet science from her father, M. Tonpu Kom, and mother Saneikham Kom, but winning a 2000 State championship got her photograph in the newspaper - and her secret was out of the bag:

"I still remember I was castigated by my father who said with a battered and bruised face, I should not expect to get married. He was furious that I took to boxing - a taboo for women - and he did not have the slightest idea about it. But my passion for the sport had got the better of me and I thank my cousins who coaxed and cajoled my father into eventually giving his nod. I'm happy that I did not let anybody down," she told the Deccan Herald in September 2004.

After winning her first title and Best Boxer at the First State Level Invitation women's boxing championship in Manipur in 2000, Merykom went on to win the gold in the Seventh East India Women’s Boxing Championship held in West Bengal and subsequently to win five Indian National Championships from 2000 to 2005. 

She also embarked on an international campaign that has brought her a series of gold medals and honors, though not without a few setbacks. 

On her way by train to the selection camp for her first Asian Women’s Boxing Championships in Bangkok, Thailand, she had all her luggage and her passport stolen. Her parents asked her to come home but she carried on her course. "My saviour was a city-based uncle, who said he’d fix everything if I got selected. I did, but I returned empty handed (from the meet in Bangkok). The stress following the loss of documents and luggage interfered with my training." Her solution was still more training. "We girls really worked hard. Women’s boxing was a very recent introduction, and we really wanted to excel."

Merykom's "international gold rush" finally began with the Second Asian Women's Championship in Hissar and continued with a win in the Third Asian Women's Championship held in Taiwan.

In her first AIBA World Women's Boxing Championship in Scranton, USA in 2001, the 18-year-old Merykom had to settle for silver, losing to Hulya Sahin of Turkey by 13-5 in the 48-kg final after defeating Jamie Behl of Canada by 21-9 in the semi-final and Nadia Hockmi of Poland by RSCO-3 in the quarter-final. "She was leading in the first round but her opponent managed to score points in the final round," coach Anoop Kumar said of Merykom's performance in the final.

The next year, she struck gold at the Second AIBA World Women’s Senior Boxing Championship held from October 21-27, 2002 in Antalya, Turkey, winning the 45-kg division by defeating Svetlana Miroshnichenko of the Ukraine in her semi-final and Jang Song-Ae of North Korea in the final

On November 22, 2003 in the 46-kg finals of the Asian Women's Championships at Mahabir Stadium in Hisar, India, she defeated Chou Szu Yin of Chinese Taipei by RSCO-2. She had previously defeated L. G. Chandrika of Sri Lanka also by RSCO-2.

Her once-skeptical father accompanied his trail-blazing daughter to the ceremony in 2003 at which she was the first woman ever to receive India's prestigious Arjuna award for her achievement in boxing.

She also took gold in the 46-kg division of the Women's World Boxing Tournament in Tønsberg, Norway from 27 April to 2 May 2004, defeating Derya Aktop of Turkey by RSCO-2 in the semi-final and Xia Li of China by RSCO-2 in the final.

She was also the Witch Cup Tournament champion in Hungary in 2004.

At the August 2004 Asian Women's Boxing Championships in Taiwan she  defeated Gretchen Abaniel of the Philippines 35-11 in the 46-kg final.

She successfully defended her 46-kg world title at the Third AIBA Women's World Championships held from 25 September to 2 October 2005 in Podolsk, Russia. She won the final by a 28-13 score over Jong Ok of North Korea, who had reached the finals with a 22-20 decision over Gretchen Abaniel of the Philippines. Kom had defeated Elena Sabitova of Russia 31-16 in her semi-final and Nancy Fortin of Canada 30-13 in her preliminary. While she saw her repeat win as great progress, she expressed admiration for the Russians, who won the team event.  "They are so well-built, with big muscles!"

On 19-22 October 2006 at the Venus Box Cup in Vejle, Denmark, Merykom won by RSCO-2 over Sofie Molholr of Denmark in the 46-kg semi-final and defeated Steluta Duta of Romania by retirement in the third round. Duta had defeated Valeria Calabrese of Italy RSCI-2 to reach the final and had also won the 46-kg division of the Ahmet Comert Tournament in 2006 with a RSCO-2 over Derya Aktop of Turkey (Merykom did not compete in that tournament.)

On 23 November 2006 at the AIBA World Championships at Talkatora Indoor Stadium in New Delhi, India Merykom again won the 46-kg division - this time with a 22-7 decision over her Venus Box Cup final opponent Steluta Duta of Romania. Merykom kept the Romanian on the defensive for most of the bout, then celebrated her win with a demonstration of Manipuri folk dance in the ring. Duta reached the final with a RSCO-2 win over Boranbayeva Zalgul of Kazakhstan in the semi.

In New Delhi, Merykom had previously defeated Jong Ok of North Korea 20-8 in the semi-final, and Chandrike Geruga of Sri Lanka by RSCO-2 in the quarter-final after a bye in the preliminary round.  She began the tournament with a cough and fever (and was unable to take any medication because of the doping test) but she still performed well enough to lead Chandrike Geruga 13-3 after one round, and the bout was stopped in the second with Merykom ahead 19-4.

"Everyone in our team worked very hard for this day and it is good to see that we have achieved it on our home soil," she said. On this occasion the Indian women's boxing team edged the formidable Russians by 34 points to 28 in team standings.

Like most world-class amateur female boxers, Merykom now hopes to compete in the Olympic Games some day. "Now I will dream again to represent India in the Olympics at least once till the time my body permits."

On her ring strategy, Merykom says "I simply try to cramp my opponents so that they don't get any chance to free their arms. 'My height (around five feet) is a problem but my fitness is my advantage. I make my opponents run a lot in the ring, which tires them.'  In 2005 she told a felicitation program organized by Indian Amateur Boxing Federation and YMCA: "I do not only rely on my technique or strength but also on my mind," adding that in her 46-kg weight category "I mostly meet different boxers in my weight category as the older ones change to higher weight category. But I have established myself here."

"To be a successful boxer one must also have a strong heart. Some women are physically strong but fail when it comes to having a strong heart. One also must have the zeal and the right fighting spirit," says Merykom. "We work harder than men and are determined to fight with all our strength to make our nation proud. God has given me the talent and it’s only because of sheer grit and hard work that I have made it so far."

Merykom works out five to six hours a day to stay fit. Coming from a poor family who struggled to educate her siblings, her success as a world champion is a testament to her determination, perseverance and drive to succeed. She has used her earnings from boxing to obtain a new house and land for her parents and savings deposits for her younger siblings but she bemoans the lack of sponsorship for Indian female boxers, saying "I guess that’s because I don’t play tennis or cricket. Seriously, are there no other sports in India?"  She has said that she would eventually like to share her boxing experiences while grooming new sports talent in Manipur.

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Page last updated: Friday, 06 November 2015


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