Having hosted the Olympic Games in 1908and 1948, London will next year becomethe first city to host the Games for a third time. But that isn't the only reason thatLondon 2012 will be making history. It will also be thefirst Games to feature women's boxing, meaning thatboth men and women will be competing in everyOlympic sport. The historic decision to includewomen's boxing in London 2012 dates back to 13 August 2009, when, following an IOC executiveboard meeting, IOC President Jacques Roggeannounced that the sport would be added to theOlympic programme.The decision was a dream come true for India'sMangte Chungneijang Merykom, otherwise known asMary Kom, who has helped the sport achieve itsOlympic ambition by demonstrating its globalpopularity with her success at the Women's WorldBoxing Championships."At first I could not believe my ears," says the five-time world champion when she thinks back to thatmomentous day in 2009. "But when it was confirmed,I was so happy. I have won everything that could bewon, but it was the Olympic gold medal that stilleluded me. Now it's a dream come true for me to getthe chance to represent my nation at the OlympicGames when I am at the peak of my career."The five consecutive world titles speak volumesabout Kom's grit, hard work and determination. Borninto a family of farmers in a village in Manipur - asmall state in north-eastern India - the 28-year-oldlearned to live with poverty from an early age."We were very poor and I used to help my parentsin the field after coming back from school," sherecalls. "I used to bring firewood from the jungle,which was used for cooking food." Mary was an all-round athlete and excelled in localand school sports events. It was a burning passionand love for sports that pushed her to scale suchheights and achieve what other women would nothave even dreamed of."Yes, I was an all-round athlete; good at almostevery sport, especially football, karate and judo. I tookan active part in school and village sports and wonmany accolades there too. However, I wanted to makeit big and didn't quite know which sport to go for, orhow and where to get enrolled and get started."Finally, in 1998, inspired by the success of DingkoSingh, another boxer from Manipur, who won gold atthat year's Asian Games, Kom secretly began trainingwith a local boxing coach, without the knowledge ofher father. One of her cousins was supportive of herendeavour and she helped her procure second-handboxing gloves from a local market. "With Dingko Singh winning gold in the 1998Asian Games, boxing went through a new wave inManipur," says Kom. "I was one of the manyyoungsters who took to boxing at that time.RightFive-timeworld championMary Kom ishoping to makehistory in Londonnext year bybecoming the first women'sflyweight goldmedallistRightEnnis hasfound herself inthe mediaspotlight sincebecoming worldchampion in 2009Far leftThe 25-year-old wonEuropean gold in2010 and hopesto be celebratingagain in Londonnext summer46OLYMPIC REVIEWon to win 2009 World Championship gold in Berlinjust four months, later and exorcised her demons atGötzis the following year with personal bests in shotput and 200m to complete an exceptional comeback. Today, Lewis' 11-year-old British heptathlonrecord hangs by a thread after Ennis recorded apersonal best, just eight points shy, when winningEuropean Championship gold in Barcelona in 2010."It was nice getting so close to the record," sheadmits. "But first and foremost I want to perform well and win medals." With less than a year to go to London 2012,Ennis approaches the Games as one of Great Britain's key medal hopes and the British public arealready backing their 'golden girl' to spearhead theBritish assault. "It obviously brings extra pressure, but I wasn't apart of it at all three years ago, so it's nice to play abig role in 2012 and it's that much more special forme that the Games are here in the UK."The gruelling demands of her event make a yearon the track a very long one, with every eventualitypossible. "The heptathlon is a massive challenge. Youonly get the opportunity to compete in a couple everyyear so it's a rare event, which brings a lot of pressureto those two days. It's all about highs and lows andthe margin for error is so great -I absolutely love it."The mental strength with which Ennis overcomespressure, injury and physical disadvantage propels herto the front of the field and while she admits thatthrowing remains her weakest event, it continues toimprove. Her pace over short distance is world-classin its own right, as proved when she beat Americanworld indoor champion Lolo Jones over 60m hurdles.London 2012HAILMARYAS WOMEN'S BOXING PREPARES TO MAKE ITS OLYMPIC DEBUT INLONDON IN 2012, INDIA'S FLYWEIGHTSTAR MARY KOMIS CONFIDENT OF BECOMING THE SPORT'S FIRSTOLYMPIC GOLD MEDALLISTMary KomATHLETE INTERVIEW
OLYMPIC REVIEW47"Luckily for me, women's boxing started inManipur just after and there was ample opportunity tosucceed as it was new to the state and there were nowomen who had already mastered the sport. Everyonewas on equal footing. This is how I took up boxing." Her parents did not support her passion, however,fearing that the sport would leave scars on her face.Kom continued without their approval and knowledge,and they only came to know of her endeavours afterseeing her picture in a local newspaper when she hadwon the state championship."It was tough as I had to lie to my parents everyday," recalls Kom. "But I was sure that if I wassuccessful, I would be able to convince them and move forward. Luckily for me I succeeded at the state level and thereafter could persuade my parentswith the help of my cousins. Once they were convinced, there was nothing that could stop me andhere I am today." Kom, who competes in the flyweight category (48-51kg), opened her international account with a silvermedal in the 2001 Women's World Amateur BoxingChampionships - the same year that she won the 1stNational Women's Boxing Championship of India. "I was still ignorant about the women's worldboxing scene when I went for the WorldChampionship," says Kom. "I wasn't very confident ofwinning, but I just tried to focus on my game and wenton to win the silver. That itself was great for me."Apart from the silver medal, what I gained mostfrom the experience was confidence. I came to knowthat I can compete at the highest level if I keepworking hard, and so I did just that."Kom came back to win gold at the 2002 Women'sWorld Amateur Boxing Championship in Turkey andhas been invincible ever since, winning gold in its nextfour editions in Russia (2005), India (2006), China(2008) and Barbados (2010). "After the silver in the USA, I travelled to Turkeyaiming for gold. I was much more confident thanbefore and knew my competitors well," reveals Kom."Yes, I am elated to have defended my titlesuccessfully four times and would like to continue todo so as long as I compete." In between hersuccesses on the world stage, Kom has won manyother national and international tournaments, mostrecently taking a gold medal at the Asian Cup Women'sBoxing event in China in May. But what she is mostlooking forward to is the 2012 Olympic Games inLondon, for which she is leaving no stone unturned inher quest to bring home a gold medal for India, as shecarries the hopes of a billion people on her shoulders."My aim is to win gold in London and I am trainingharder than ever," she says. "I am aware of the billionhopes I am carrying. I can't let the people of India down. What I am most looking forward to is tobecoming the first woman boxer to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games." ?Now she returns to her favoured heptathlon ahead ofthe World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, this August. After that the home straight to London2012 lies before her. "The atmosphere will be amazing," enthusesEnnis. "To have people travelling from all over theworld is going to be just incredible. I can't wait to see the venues and how the whole thing comestogether and transforms London. I have neverexperienced an Olympic Village before so I am verymuch looking forward to being part of the GB Team in that environment."Ennis caught the Olympic bug when she wasyoung. Now the gold medal prospect hopes that, inturn, the Olympic Games in London in 2012 willinspire children around Great Britain to get involved in sport."In Sheffield there are loads of kids coming here[to the English Institute of Sport] and wanting to takepart because of the Olympic Games. There are lots oftraining squads and summer camps for the youngerkids. It's really positive that we have a home Gamesthat could inspire these youngsters. They could be the future of athletics." ?ATHLETE INTERVIEWLondon 2012"IN SHEFFIELD THERE ARELOADS OF KIDS WANTING TOTAKE PART IN ATHLETICSBECAUSE OF THE OLYMPICGAMES. THERE ARE LOTS OFTRAINING SQUADS AND SUMMER CAMPS FOR THEYOUNGER KIDS. IT'S REALLYPOSITIVE THAT WE HAVE AHOME GAMES THAT COULD INSPIRE THESE YOUNGSTERS.THEY COULD BE THE FUTUREOF ATHLETICS"