New Delhi: Not many athletes can claim to be the greatest in just their debut Olympics, but then, not many can be compared to the 'Magnificent M C Mary Kom', a living legend in international boxing much before women got a chance to show their mettle in the quadrennial event.

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In fact, the medal that she assured herself on Monday in London by reaching the flyweight semifinals is a tribute to all that the Manipuri has accomplished in a career that has spanned 12 years, most of them at the top.

Her statistics in the ring are astonishing to say the least - five world and four Asian titles in three different weight categories, besides numerous international medals that she clinched before being catapulted to the status of a living legend by no less than the International Boxing Association.

These figures alone are, however, not the complete story of her greatness.

The 29-year-old 'pint sized dynamo' got her fourth world title, in 2008, within months of a comeback to competitive boxing following a two-year break forced by the birth of her twin sons.

And when she fought for her fourth Asian title this year, one of her sons was undergoing heart surgery in India.

But even that is not a good enough measure of Mary Kom's brilliance considering that her journey started from a remote village in the insurgency-hit state of Manipur where, not so long ago, an economic blockade had crippled normal life.

Her farmer parents describe her as a no-nonsense fiery character who, while growing up, wouldn't think twice before thrashing boys, dare they tease her and perhaps it proved to be her first lessons in landing blows.

For a while she dabbled in athletics before a certain Dingko Singh inspired her towards her true calling in life.

Dingko's gold medal at the 1998 Asian Games was the first time Mary Kom gave a serious thought to taking up boxing.

But there was a glitch, she was not sure whether her parents would approve of an unconventional career choice. So, for a while, she kept her training sessions with formative coaches a secret.

However, as luck would have it, she could not carry on hiding it for long and in 2000, Mary Kom's family came to know of her secret when her photograph appeared in a local daily after winning the Manipur state women's boxing championship.

After much persuasion, most of it directed at her reluctant mom, Mary Kom got the go ahead to pursue what has turned out to be a glorious career.

It started with a silver in the inaugural World Championships in 2001 and for the next five editions, it was just gold for the diminutive boxer, who likes to gauge her rivals before going for all-out attacks that mostly leave them gasping for breath.

Not to mention the knockout punches she showed herself to be quite capable of throwing even outside the ring, in case the situation demanded.

In between, she got married, had kids – life-changing experiences for a woman -- but what remained unchanged was her ring-craft and ability to deliver the big blows whenever she donned the gloves, no matter what the competition.

Mary Kom's talent fetched her international accolades, but at home the 11-time national champion was more often than not left simmering with rage at what she perceived to be total indifference.

Not the one to mince words, she took on the administrators quite a few times complaining about the disparity in training facilities for men and women and the security of her fellow boxers at shabbily-maintained camps.

Her angst was not too misplaced given that her four world titles were deemed not enough for the country's highest sporting honour in 2008, when it was given to cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who was comparatively less-accomplished but more hyped in a team sport.

She got her due the next year and couldn't stop giggling when asked to put in words, her remarkable journey.

These giggles, in fact, are a reflection of Mary Kom's simplicity and unassuming personality despite being an athlete-par-excellence, who made the physically stressful transition from 48kg to 51kg to live her Olympic dream.

It was quite fitting that she was India's lone flag-bearer when women's boxing debuted in London given that AIBA made her a face of their campaign to get the sport included in the Games.

She has got nothing left to prove after this and might as well hang her gloves once she is back but the word 'Magnificent' will forever be her synonym.


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