MC Mary Kom on how she combines motherhood and the pursuit of her Olympic dream
By Moska Najib
BBC News, Delhi
There is always a preconceived notion about the sport. Legends like Ali, Tyson and Hatton are familiar names here in India but when you ask locals about women dominating the boxing ring, they smirk and respond with the old cliché that professional boxing is still seen as a man's world.
For years now, boxing has instigated this old-fashioned view that the sport is unladylike; two women throwing punches at each other is a sight rarely seen on films, let alone in the boxing ring.
Many female boxers have learned to live with the ignorance, but criticism from those who believe that women shouldn't be allowed to box at all is a feeling quite hard to dismiss.
"In many northern states in India, they think low of women who box," says 28-year-old MC Mary Kom, from the north-eastern state of Manipur that borders Burma.
MC MARY KOM - THE FACTS
Region: Imphal, Manipur, India
Career highlights: Four time World Champion
Recent performance: Gold medal, Asian Boxing Championships, Kazakhstan, May 2010
She is a masterpiece of the unconventional Indian woman - petite and delicate, but with a muscular physique which speaks of the gruelling regimen she endures.
Dressed in a navy blue short and vest, with a red bandana tied around her head, we meet inside a stadium in the western city of Pune where she is taking part in a three-day boxing championship.
Surrounded by hundreds of spectators, she shadowboxes moments before the bowl-shaped gong is struck. As she slips into the boxing ring, the crowds are awestruck - this 5ft 2in boxer can throw jabs, hooks and roll punches one after another.
Unlike her male counterparts, Mary relies on technique and accuracy than raw power.
"My left hook is very strong," she says. "Since 2001 I'm using my left hook to make it this far, to be a world champion." It's this tactic that she hopes will achieve her ultimate goal - becoming the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal at boxing in London 2012.
She was barely 18 when she started out. It was the era when Dingko Singh of Manipur had demonstrated the rise of professional women boxing, an inspiration to many young Manipuri girls.
For Mary though, the financial gains were much more; winning would ease the farming pressures her family had to sustain for a livelihood. And the stake was convincing her father that it was okay for a woman to try to storm what was considered a male bastion.
"When he saw my photograph on the national newspaper, he was happy," she grins, admitting that for many years her father was unaware of her love for the sport.
Watching Jackie Chan's stunts on the big screen was a favourite past-time. Years later it would inspire Mary to find her own forte - lightning reflexes that knock out her opponents in the split of a second.
Today, the shy and charismatic boxer is a four-time undisputed world champion and the face of women's Indian boxing.
Hailed by her promoters as "Magnificent Mary", her success has come with enormous sacrifices. An intense training schedule keeps the mother of twin boys away from her home and family for most part of the year.
I'm amazed by her dedication when she recalls how it took her only a month to prepare for the Asian Championship, having being away for two years from the boxing ring because of the Caesarean birth of her twins. She won the silver medal.
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When I ask Mary if she wished for more time with her three-year-old boys, she immediately changes the subject to how naughty they are; that they playfully fight to get her attention, and end up hurting themselves.
Later she admits that spending time away from her husband and boys has been the most difficult compromise she's ever had to make. While sharing her sons' pictures with me saved on her Nokia phone, I get the sense that her struggle to be the best comes with a big prize - solitude.
The London Games in 2012 will be the pinnacle of Mary's career, the first time that women are being allowed to compete in this most intuitive of sports at Olympic level. It is an opportunity she's been waiting for over a decade.
When I ask what awaits her post 2012, she interjects and reminds me that her dream is to win the gold medal.
'It's been too long," she declares as I watch her flex both her arms with mighty thick veins covering them: "I am an old woman now, but still I'm strong."
Moments before the gong is struck, Mary disappears from my vision, behind the ring, ready to box.
We will be following the progress of a selection of athletes and we would like to hear from you.
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