There are very few athletes - particularly such a punishing sport like boxing - who have enjoyed such sustained success over so many years as Mary Kom.
What is amazing about legends like these is their motivation to continue to strive, to search for new ways to improve and to remain at the top.
The six-time world champion Mary Kom, unsurprisingly, identified the unquenchable fire in her belly to win as one of the cornerstones for her success over years in an exclusive chat with the Olympic Channel.
Staying hungry key to Mary Kom’s success
“In India, girls have potential and we have a lot of talented, young boxers,” the bronze medallist from the 2012 London Olympics said.
“But what I have seen is that after one medal they are satisfied, which I believe shouldn’t be the case. We should always have hunger. By satisfied, I mean they develop an attitude.”
This discontent despite all her success is perhaps what separates her and the rest of the greats from their peers. But what keeps a winner of a record eight world championships medals driven for more?
“What keeps me hungry is Olympic gold. Once I win that, I think I will be satisfied,” Mary Kom revealed. “I have been fighting for 20 years now and being a girl, it is not an easy job, but I am glad that I can still continue without major injury.”
Hailing from a humble background, Mary Kom’s journey to the pinnacle of Indian boxing was far from straightforward.
Olympic bronze in London 2012 a real gamechanger
While she admits that hard work, dedication and self-belief were the building blocks for her success, it was the Olympic bronze at London that was the real gamechanger for the multiple-time world champion.
“It means a lot. An Olympic medal changed my life. Two-three World Championships were good, but I couldn’t do anything in life. It was good recognition as well, but women’s boxing was not popular as well. After women’s boxing got included in the Olympics, ASIAD and Commonwealth Games, it changed everything,” Mary Kom revealed.
“I have a lot of friends now and whatever I require in boxing, people take notice. I can directly talk to the minister and things can be provided immediately. The Olympic bronze changed my life and the young boxers today are reaping fruits of my medal,” she added.
Now 37 years of age, Tokyo 2020 will be Mary Kom’s last shot at Olympic gold. The boxing star will be fighting in the women’s featherweight after moving up a division and even if she were to come up short at the showpiece event, you can rest assured that it wasn’t for a lack of effort.
“I need to call God and ask (if I’ll win gold at the Olympics because) It’s difficult to answer that question. That’s a dream I am fighting for now. I can only put effort,” Mary Kom said.
Staying humble, grounded and hungry
Regardless of what the Indian legend achieves at Tokyo, her burning desire to keep winning - that’s still as incandescent as ever - has already etched Mary Kom’s unparalleled journey in the annals of amateur boxing.
The elusive Olympic gold aside, there isn’t much left for her to win. However, what of women’s boxing in India once the sun sets on the Mary Kom era?
“I am not God and I don’t know what will happen. But as I told you. I want young boxers not to have an attitude. It’s important in any career. People need to be simple and down to earth and then they can achieve more,” she advised.
“So, winning one medal is satisfying for a boxer, the career is finished. I respect both the rich and the poor, but many boxers from my country win once and think ‘I’m the boss’.
“Nobody knows you when you started and you should remain humble when you have achieved something,” she insisted alluding to her own mantra for success over the past two decades.
The fact that three Indian women boxes are Tokyo-bound along with Mary Kom for Olympics points at a promising future once she does decide to hang up her gloves.
The long-term challenge for women’s boxing in India beyond the results at the Olympics, though, will be how to inculcate and integrate Magnificent Mary’s winning mentality allied with infatigable work ethic with the present and future stars.