India’s Olympic Story: Mary Kom

An excerpt from Tulika’s India’s Olympic Story - a comprehensive book for young readers that discusses the achievements of Indian athletes.

An excerpt from Tulika Books’ India’s Olympic Story – a comprehensive book for young readers that discusses the achievements of Indian sportspersons.

This book was published a little before the Olympics. Since then, as we all know, Mary Kom has done herself and the country proud by winning a Bronze medal.


Book: India’s Olympic Story
Publishers: Tulika Books
Age: 11 and above
Price: Rs. 110

M.C. Mary Kom

True Grit

She stood no more than five feet two inches tall. Small, frail, she wore creased clothes and a torn tracksuit. Mangte Chugneijang Mary Kom looked diffident and vulnerable. The lives of most of the people in the northeastern state of Manipur had been crippled by the waves of violent insurgencies in the area for the past 60 years. Coming from a family of peasants in Manipur’s countryside, Mary Kom had known tough times. She lived near the Loktak Lake, the largest freshwater lake in north-east India. Often called floating lake because of the mix of vegetation, soil and other matter floating on its surface, it supports the Keibul Lamjao National Park known for its endangered sangai or brow-antlered deer. But the region had not seen sufficient economic growth.

That afternoon in the year 2000, Mary Kom plucked up her courage and walked decisively towards a dilapidated indoor stadium in Imphal where some pugilists were trading punches under the watchful eyes of their coach, Ibomcha Singh. She trembled with trepidation as the crumbling structure of the stadium came into view. Then she thought of Dingko Singh and this helped steady her nerves. Manipuri boxer Dingko Singh was a huge inspiration to young sportspeople in the region. His winning gold at the 1998 Asian Games had made a deep impact on youngsters like Mary. Like many other children, she played football, karate, and judo in her childhood. She was also a swift runner and javelin was her pet event. Dingko’s success gave a boost to boxing and she felt that by taking it up and being good at it, she could hope to secure a better life for her family.

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Dingko Singh’s success triggered a revolution of sorts in Manipur and surprisingly I found that I was not the only girl who was drawn to boxing. – Mary Kom in an interview.

The one person who could help her in her endeavour was Ibomcha Singh. However, Mary was afraid that the man, who looked more like a Buddhist monk than a boxing coach, would turn her away. For, in those days, boxing was the preserve of men, and women taking it up was unheard of. “You are a girl and besides you are so small and thin,” Ibomcha Singh told Mary. She started crying and eventually the coach relented and took her in.

Meanwhile, Mary’s parents – who did not want to encourage their daughter to take up sports because they could not afford the expenses – were oblivious to their daughter’s ambitions. In fact, Mary’s parents, M. Tonpu Kom and M. Akham Kom, came to know of their daughter’s decision to take up boxing only after she had been featured in the newspapers for winning a local boxing championship in 2000!


Source: The Hindu Archives

In an interview to the Deccan Herald, Mary Kom had said, “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… But my passion for the sport got the better of me and I thank my cousins who coaxed and cajoled my father into eventually giving his nod.

Twelve years and five consecutive World Women Boxing championships later, Mary Kom is one of India’s best bets for a gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics. She now supports her family and hopeful pugilists. At her boxing academy, boxers get free accommodation and follow a rigorous training regimen. All those doubts which had resided deep within her all those years ago as she made her way to Ibomcha Singh’s boxing gym have now been exorcised through sheer grit and determination. Her sweetest moment came when her father, once so sceptical of her career choice, accompanied her proudly to Delhi for the Arjuna Awards ceremony in 2003.

I always remember the story of David and Goliath,” Mary Kom said in an interview to the BBC. “David is a small boy and Goliath is a big man. How can David kill Goliath? I always remember I am also small and Manipur is very small, but if I pray and if I do very hard work then I will win.” This simple philosophy has seen Mary Kom continue to win laurels, even against the stiffest opposition and sometimes roller coaster experiences. For instance, en route to the selection camp for her first Asian championship at Thailand, her luggage and passport, everything was stolen. Still, she managed to make it. She has spent nights caring for her children, but has never missed training at crack of dawn.

Mary Kom has successfully helped to spread the aspiration for a better life among youngsters in her strifetorn state; needless to say, her dreams and aspirations are as infectious as her smile. All Manipuris look up to the woman everyone loves to call ‘Magnificent Mary’.


– Mary Kom was born on 1 March 1983, in Kangathei village, Moirang Langpai, Manipur.
– She helped her farmer parents in the field and took care of her siblings.
– She took up boxing in 2000, after moving to Imphal.
– Mary Kom received the Arjuna Award in 2003 and the Padma Shri in 2006.
– She joined the police force and was made Deputy Superintendent in 2010.
– She continues to box, even after the birth of her twin sons.
– She runs a boxing academy in Imphal.
– Mary Kom does India proud by winning a bronze medal at the London Olympics 2012.

Quick Facts:

– Women’s boxing debuts at the London Olympic Games in 2012.

– Canadian filmmakers Ameesha Joshi and Anna Sarikissian have made a documentary film on the Indian women’s boxing team. Called ‘With This Ring’, it follows them through their daily lives and training routines through tournaments in four countries to show their struggles and their successes.

– Some other leading women boxers of India are L. Sarita Devi, Pinky Jangra, Neetu Chahal and Pooja Rani.

– Dingko Singh was born in a very poor family and brought up in an orphanage. His talent was noticed by scouts of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and he was given training. By age 10, he had won the subjunior national championship.

Knockout news:

– In 1896, boxing was considered dangerous and ungentlemanly.

– It made its Games debut in 1904 when women’s boxing was only demonstrated. Boxing was not included in the 1912 Games at Stockholm because it was banned in Sweden. It was back in the Olympic Games for good in 1920.

– Middleweight champ Reginald ‘Snowy’ Baker’ from Australia had an ‘unforgettable’ final at London 1908. He lost to a British opponent, John Douglas, in what he thought was an unfairly judged bout. It turned out the referee was Douglas’s father!

– Ever since Barcelona 1992, boxers have had to qualify for the Olympic Games. However, this challenge has been offset by the fact that since Helsinki 1952, both the losing semifinalists get bronze medals.

Other Resources: 


The Greatest Boxing Stories Ever Told by Jeff Silverman
On Boxing by Joyce Carol Oates
The Professional by W. C. Heinz


With This Ring
Million Dollar Baby



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