Boxing's mother Mary has Olympic gold in sights

Published Nov. 22, 2010 11:33 a.m. ET

Mary Kom has already shown she loves a good fight.

And with five world championship titles, the cheery Indian boxer now has even more to like about her chosen sport.

Women's boxing is on the program for the 2012 London Olympics, where Kom is looking to get its first gold.

''I think it is going to bring our sport more popularity,'' Kom, who has twin three-year-old sons, said with a big smile after demolishing her Taiwanese opponent 16-2 - including a standing eight-count in the final round - in an Asian Games quarterfinal bout on Monday. ''London is my next goal.''

Kom - that's the name she goes by, her real name is Chungneijang Mangte - said she was inspired as a teenager to pursue a career fighting for her dinner by watching action movies with Jet Li and Jackie Chan.

''I was interested in kung fu and kickboxing. Now, my idol is Muhammad Ali.''

For a rural girl from Manipur, it wasn't a typical path to take.


Kom, 28, grew up in northeastern India near the border with Myanmar. Her parents work a slash-and-burn farm, where she helped in the fields, fished, cut wood and made charcoal while looking after her two younger sisters and a brother. She went into sports to try to earn extra money.

Her first choice was athletics, but in her late teens she decided to follow in the footsteps of Dingko Singh, another Manipuri boxer who won the Asian Games gold in 1998.

Within two years, she was smitten. And she was her way to becoming one of India's biggest sporting heroes. To her fans she is simply called ''magnificent.''

She started gaining success after success in local bouts, and won her first world championships in 2002, having taken the silver the year before. She won the world's in 2005-6, and again in 2008 and 2010, after a sabbatical to give birth to her twins.

Kom said motherhood and boxing don't always mix.

''It's hard, but my husband is very supportive of me,'' she said.

What she does see as a good mix women's boxing and the Olympics.

''Why not?'' she said. ''I think it is a great idea.''

If she can stay injury-free, Kom will be one of the event's biggest stars.

Women's boxing was a demonstration sport at the 1904 Olympic Games. Last summer, the IOC Executive Board announced that it would be on the program for London, with medals awarded in three weight classes - flyweight, or under 51 kilograms; lightweight, under 60 kilograms; and middleweight, for boxers under 75 kilograms.

Kom has stepped up her weight to fight in the 51-kilogram class, the same as Chinese powerhouse Ren Cancan, the world champion at 52-kilograms. Ren also won her quarterfinal Monday 10-0.

The women fight for four two-minute rounds. Points are scored the same as they are for men.

IOC president Jacques Rogge said in announcing the decision to include women boxers that they had made ''tremendous'' strides over the past five years.

For Kom, however, it will likely be the end of the road.

''It'll be tough, but I'll do my best,'' she said.

Kom has begun teaching young men and women to follow her example.

In 2006, she opened the non-profit M.C. Mary Kom Boxing Academy for underprivileged youths. The academy now has 37 boxers, 16 female and 21 male, and is already producing national medalists.