Indian boxer MC Mary Kom won her bout against Tunisian Maroua Rahali today, ensuring that she will win a medal in the woman’s fly boxing, the Hindustan Times reports.Her performance means that she is guaranteed a medal, and has a good chance she will win gold.
Like any Olympic athlete, Kom’s success is impressive, but it becomes even more impressive when you consider how poorly India usually fares at the Olympics.
Generally, the BRICs have some advantages when it comes to the Olympics; Big populations, booming economies, a desire to prove themselves. China, of course, does very well at the Olympics, currently leading the total medal count. Russia, while far off its historical highs, isn’t doing too bad with 37 medals. Brazil isn’t doing great, but they have 8 medals including 2 golds.
India, on the other hand, has 3 medals so far. It is a country of 1.2 billion people, with zero gold medals. Amazingly, this isn’t a particularly bad year for India — it has won 22 medals in the history of the Olympic games, which means it is 55th in the world, tied with Morocco and Thailand.
Why don’t they win? Max Fisher of the Atlantic wrote a great article this week that looked into some of the reasons why India has performed so badly. Fisher finds that it ultimately comes down to poverty, and the prioritizing of other activities over sports.
What’s remarkable, however, is that when analysed closely, India’s medal-winning history is even worse. Fisher points out that at least half of India’s medals come from field hockey, which the country had dominated until it the Olympic rules switched from grass turf to asto-turf in the 70s. If Kom wins a gold medal, she will be the second Indian to ever win an individual gold medal, and only the second Indian to win a gold medal for a sport other than field hockey (Abhinav Bindra won gold for shooting in 2008).
Kom’s success also looks even better when you consider her background. Not only is she a woman — a recent, widely-read Guardian article looked at the problems for females in the country — but Kom also comes from an impoverished background. She grew up in the conflict-torn state of Manipur, and was a member of a marginalized tribal community, the Independent reported in 2010 (Kom set up a school for boxing in the poor North-Eastern region in 2006).
Despite this (and despite raising twins), Kom has been at the top of international woman’s boxing for the last 10 years, winning the World Boxing championship 5 times. This year is both the first chance that Kom will have to prove herself (2012 is the first year that Female boxing has been included at the Olympics).
All this together is why Kom has earned the nickname “Magnificent Mary”, and why there seems to be so much support for her back home. “We are really proud of her. We will all welcome her in our cultural and traditional glory when she returns with a medal.” Mary’s sister told the Times of India today. “We have never stopped praying and thousands have joined us as well. And now we will pray for her so that she wins a gold medal.”
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