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Just happy to keep proving people wrong
It's 10 am and MC Mary Kom is ready to start a day that eventually saw her being felicitated at four different functions and giving media interviews. The bright red lipstick that adorned her lips in the morning had faded by the time lunch came around. But the smile never left Mary Kom's face.
For a woman who has spent the past decade in oblivion, this sudden acknowledgment and respect, apart from being long overdue, is also sweet. Onkholer Kom, Mary Kom's better half and her pillar of calm, says that his wife always believed she'll get her due the day she wins an Olympic medal. "She would always say that and it's true. Everybody wants to meet her now and congratulate her, " he said on the sidelines of one such felicitation function. Suddenly everyone's eager to claim as one of their own - read Indian even though most people can't even point out Manipur on the map. "The best way to win out of that situation is to prove people wrong and get them to notice you, " he says wryly.
Mary Kom's own reaction is a little more intense. "Oh, my god! This is a very, very, very different reaction from the kind I would get before, " she said, after she was whisked away from a bunch of byte-hungry cameras. "I knew that if I won a medal, I would get the respect. People would recognise me. Before I was a five-time world champion but that didn't matter. You know, that hurt a lot. I used to get very upset. "
To bear the insult of never being treated as the champion she truly is, a fact that was never disputed by the rest of the world, seemed in vain but the 29-year-old knew her chance to shine would come. Today, after all the years of hardships, of taunts, of subjecting her body to training regimens that would make most of us scream in pain, of staying away from her five-year-old twins - who got their wishlist of skateboards and scooters from London - this is how it stands. "I didn't mind because I knew winning an Olympic medal would change everything, " she adds.
And changed it has for the daughter of a farmer and the eldest of five siblings. From being rewarded handsomely to posing for pictures with excited British tourists in the hotel lobby - "You're so famous. You were all over the newspapers back home" - Mary Kom treats everything with a smile. "Everyone is happy now. I want to keep it like that, " she laughs.
The road to London was no laughing matter for the Manipur girl, though. Reports of her acting like a prima donna at the 10th senior National women's boxing championship in Jamshedpur in 2009 surfaced after she lost to a 19-year-old boxer. Ask her if all's well between her and officials now, and she quips, "I hope so. "
Fighting in a weight category higher than her 48 kgs was never going to be easy for a woman who couldn't put on weight. "Fighting bigger fighters was never a worry, the additional weight was. Sure I could put on weight if I sat and did nothing for two months. But if I'm training or even at home running after my kids, how will I put on weight?" she says. So the boxer drank lots of water and ate heavy dinners before weigh-ins and punched her way to a medal.
She won a bronze not just because she spent the last 12 years training for it. She won a bronze because she yearned for it and cried for it. While most athletes are happy to win a medal of any colour, Mary Kom broke down on national television apologizing for winning only a bronze. The bouquets haven't quite wilted but the diminutive boxer Kom has already set her sights on 2016. "I'll get a different coloured medal next time, " Mary Kom smiles.
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