Mary Kom with family
Just when we thought that it was time to shift our sights to 2020 and look forward to events that have been arrayed in the fresh year the world over, came two happenings in a flash virtually at the end of 2019 in Indian sports to demand attention at the doorsteps of the New Year!
What is more there is an interesting link between the protagonists of the two events. The common factor of the two sporting champions was they were mothers and had made a big come back in their respective sport to shine again. In short the two had shown that when it came to making a point, nothing can stop the best, not even motherhood!
The reference here is to Koneru Humpy who crowned herself with the World women's rapid chess title and the boxing legend Mary Kom who proved again her pre-eminent status as the best in the 51 kg category in India even if in the process she unwittingly got stuck in a controversy.
To handle the emotional attachment with the child and also ensure excellence in chess are two varied tasks and not always easy to balance. But Humpy is a proven winner in the sport right from childhood. If it was Viswanathan Anand who revolutionised the way chess is looked at now in the country with over 60 Grand Masters to boast, Humpy had done her bit to put women players right there in front with her achievements.
Being the second player after Anand to win the World junior title at the age of 14 and becoming the youngest women grand master at the age of 15, Humpy's credentials are glittering but still to make the kind of comeback she did after a two year break when she had her child, spoke volumes of her steely resolve.
It was a question of whether Chess wanted Humpy more or whether it was the other way. As it happened it (Chess and Humpy) was a combination that could not be separated and the proof of it came in Moscow when she scaled another peak in her illustrious career.
Still it was not easy. As she admitted in an interview to a national newspaper, she drew a big inspiration from a sportsperson like Mary, who came back into the ring after child-birth and did what she was best at - touching new highs!
Like Humpy, Mary too was a glutton for hard work. Childhood struggles apart, she had taken to a sport which for long was considered not for women. Finding the right channels to grow in the sport helped her. The rest was her hard work and performance. Enough has been written of her of how she came up and indeed winning six world championship titles is no small achievement.
Only, the woman is still ambitious to add an Olympic Gold to that collection. Mary had earned a bronze in the London Olympics in 2012 and that perhaps has egged her on to aim for that ultimate goal of any sportsperson - an Olympic gold and she knows at 36 years, she is not growing any younger.
So Tokyo 2020 is her target. All that is fine and everything seemed going well until the Manipuri stalwart unwittingly courted controversy by pooh poohing the challenge of a bright young talent by name Nikhat Zareen from Nizamabad for the Olympic qualifier berth.
Now, there is no taking away Mary's status as a legend in the sport. The Manipuri has inspired many young boxers but for all her experience she perhaps refused to accept that there is no tag of permanency to a champion, that she had one day to step down and give away to the next best. So why not test the wares, so to say, when an opportunity arose to ensure there was no chink in the armoury.
Many had seen Nikhat as an ideal replacement to her 51 kg section if not immediately. A bout between the two was expected to ideally clear the doubts on the matter. But her initial reluctance or shall we say uncharacteristic bragging sent the wrong signal and perhaps a national debate. But only briefly for the trials became real and as many expected Mary and Nikhat came face to face for the crucial deciding bout. Mary won and the argument ended there.
Mary's grit was to the fore again. The great lady could have made the occasion a lot sweeter had she after the fight acceded to the customary handshaking with her young challenger, let alone pass some encouraging words for her future. She did neither but that is Mary even if the general opinion may be that the senior professional could have handled it all in a better way.
How much this eventful bout would have emotionally affected the young Nikhat only time will tell. But it was good that the Union Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports Kiren Rijiju was quick to bring the whole thing around to the right perspective by lauding both the pugilists and making light of whatever happened in the ring.
Encouraging words for Nikhat had come from Kiren Rijiju when he said that the Nizamabad girl had the potential to follow the footsteps of the Manipuri legend. For now at least Mary has proved she still had enough dynamite in her fists to think big and yes, talk big too!