Dingko Singh passed away on Thursday after a prolonged battle with cancer. He won the 1998 Asian Games gold in boxing

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By MC Mary Kom

UPDATED ON JUN 10, 2021 10:05 PM IST

I woke up on Thursday to the sad news of Dingko Singh’s demise. He was one of my heroes and he did so much for boxing in India, especially in Manipur. I am proud that we are both from Manipur.

In 1998, when he won the Asian Games gold medal, it was the biggest thing to happen in Indian boxing. It was because of him that I slowly started to realize the importance of achieving something for our country, to do something big on the international stage and the pride, fame and money that comes with it.

I was just 15 years old then, studying in my village. I wanted to fight but I did not know anything about boxing. All I knew was Muhammad Ali and how inspiring he was. I had no idea if I could even pick up the sport–I thought it was only meant for boys, not girls. That’s when Dingko returned from Bangkok with the gold–he became so popular that suddenly everyone was talking about boxing. We saw him on TV and felt very proud that one of our own had achieved something so big. It was a huge moment. When it’s so close to home, you start making a different kind of connection. You start seriously believing that you can also do it. There is a different kind of pride.

Also read | Dingko Singh: Indian boxing’s original star fades away

Soon after, I was in Imphal one day and while walking back to my village I saw some girls in a boxing training session and I got very excited and I went in to ask if girls were allowed in boxing. When they said yes, I was overjoyed.

Boxing became popular in the whole of North East because of Dingko. Worldwide there may have been many stars in boxing; in Manipur we knew only Dingko Singh.

I remember hearing something about how he was not originally selected for the 1998 Asian Games, though I don’t exactly know what happened. But I know he fought that decision and eventually he was picked for the team.

Imagine, if he had not represented India at the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games? We would have missed a gold medal for the country.

Personally, I did not get the opportunity to interact much with him. I consider myself unfortunate in that regard. He was working in Mumbai as a coach and I was busy with my career and my family. But a few years back, I think five years ago in Mumbai, I went to an event and the organisers wanted to surprise me, so they also got Dingko to the event. We shared the stage and we had a nice conversation. He looked healthy and fit. It was the last time I spoke to him.