'No, the World championships in November is not my last. I am not going anywhere till the 2020 Olympics provided my body stays fit. I know my limitations but I also know my strengths.'
Lose 2kg in 4 hours!
Sounds like the advert of an outlandish weight-loss regimen?
No, this was the practical challenge that a jet-lagged M C Mary Kom was confronted with when she landed in Poland for a just-concluded boxing tournament -- the one where she picked up her third gold of the year, adding to a seemingly count-less tally.
"We landed in Poland at round 3-3:30 in the morning and the general weigh-in was at around 7:30am. I was a couple of kilograms above 48kg, the category I compete in, at that point," the five-time World champion, who is also an Olympic bronze-medallist, said.
"So, I had roughly four hours to shed that or I would have been disqualified for being over-weight at the time of general weigh-in. But I did skipping for an hour at a stretch and just like that, I was ready," said the 35-year-old, a colossus not just in Indian boxing but also internationally.
"Thankfully, the flight we travelled in was nearly empty so I could sleep with my legs outstretched, ensuring that I was not stiff on landing there. Otherwise, I don't know how I would have been able to compete," she recalled.
The diminutive Manipuri was the lone senior gold-medal winner for India at the tournament in Poland, a testimony to her incredible longevity and also a reflection of the lack of depth in Indian women's boxing.
Mention that to her and the mother-of-three offers a lopsided grin and an answer that is solely focussed on what she has done right over the nearly two decades she has been around.
"I am never satisfied with how I perform, I am always looking to work out new strategies. I am obsessive but not overtly aggressive. I like to conserve in a bout. I always like to study my opponents and then dismantle them bit by bit," she said.
And to ensure that the obsession doesn't consume her, Mary Kom said she has been lucky to have her best friend for husband.
"Onler is my rock. It is because of him that I can be this obsessive about my sport and it is because of him that I manage to never cross the unhealthy line when it comes to obsession," she said as the man in question nodded thoughtfully with a faint smile on his face.
'Chilling' at her official residence in Delhi now, the Rajya Sabha MP savoured the little joys of life which sometimes take a back-seat because of her focus on boxing.
These include watching her three kids hop around and make their tutor's job difficult, sharing jokes with Onler and checking on the aches and pains that are sometimes ignored in pursuit of that next medal.
"She is hyperactive, always looking for something to do. She cannot sit idle even after coming from a long journey. Something is dusty, it needs to be cleaned right away, she does it herself, or else she would find something in kitchen. She gets her happiness in all this, that's how she unwinds," said Onler, who manages the administration of the couple's boxing academy in Manipur.
Mary Kom is just a couple of months shy of turning 36 but said she isn't going to slow down either at home or inside the ring.
"No, the World championships in November is not my last. I am not going anywhere till the 2020 Olympics provided my body stays fit. I know my limitations but I also know my strengths. If there is any injury then I will see," she said.
For an athlete who has achieved just about everything that is there to be achieved, Mary Kom also revealed what counts for failure in her book.
"Not winning a gold, now that's a failure for me," she laughed when asked whether she can recall any debacles after an unprecedented five world and Asian titles, an Olympic bronze, Commonwealth and Asian Games gold medals, and numerous other international and national medals.
"The World championship in two months in Delhi will be another test. I can only say that I will do my best, I never guarantee medals and I won't do it now either. In a contact sport, it's foolish to make big statements because actually you never know," she said.
Individual failures, may be not, but the collective failure of Indian women's boxing at the Asian Games in Jakarta last month sprung into the conversation yet again and this time Mary Kom was a shade more forthcoming.
"See, I did feel sad that we did not get any medals at the Asian Games. And my suggestion is that we focus on technique. It is not about going all aggressive from the first round itself. Girls should learn to conserve themselves and apply their mind more," she opined.
Beyond this assessment, she preferred to keep the focus on her own game and the challenge of meeting the expectations of a sixth world title from her.
"Boxing is my soul," she declared.
"She carries her training gear all the time in the car. During Parliament session, she just runs from training to the house in morning, changing on the way, she is crazy," said Onler.
"Funny how I am a part of all this now, I got interested only in 2001," he added.
"Yeah, the year, you got interested in me," retorted Mary Kom, the sound of her laughter filling the room as the interview drew to a close.
Mary Kom is just a couple of months shy of turning 36 but said she isn't going to slow down either at home or inside the ring