Mary Kom sealed the bout 4-1 against the Pan American Games bronze medallist to enter the Round of 16 in women’s flyweight (51kg).

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By Abhishek Paul, New Delhi

PUBLISHED ON JUL 25, 2021 08:33 PM IST

Mary Kom is 38, and the Tokyo Olympics, by all estimates, are among the legend’s final acts in the boxing ring. But if age has dimmed any of her fire, it was not discernible when the six-time world champion faced an opponent 15 years younger.

On Sunday, she took the first round to study her opponent in the Round of 32, Dominican Republic’s Miguelina Hernandez Garcia, stayed resolute under some heavy punching in the second, and then decimated Garcia in the third. She sealed the bout 4-1 against the Pan American Games bronze medallist to enter the Round of 16 in women’s flyweight (51kg).

The organisers set an age limit of 40 for boxers at the Games, and extended to it 41 after the pandemic forced the Games to be postponed by a year. Kom is one of the oldest competitors this year. “Tokyo will be my last Olympics. Age matters here. I am 38 now, going on 39. Four (three) more years is a long time,” Mary had told the Olympic Channel before the Games.

The only thing Kom showed of her age in the first bout was the experience. In the first round, she kept a low guard and enticed her opponent, without spending too much energy attacking. Yet she did enough to get three of the five judges to rule in her favour. Garcia, 23, upped the aggression in the second round, but Kom blocked, bobbed and weaved out of most of the flurry of punches thrown at her, and connected instead with a few well-measured counters of her own. Kom won the round.

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By now, she boxer was warmed up, not worn down. Garcia was almost taken by surprise at the ferocity of Kom’s attacks in the third round — low lunging jabs that came from under Garcia’s sight line, hooks that came at blurry speeds and landed square on her Garcia’s helmet. Kom’s famously speedy combinations were as fast as ever, and her footwork looked as sharp as it did at London 2012, where she won the bronze.

“It has been very painful, the last couple of years, for everybody, because of the pandemic. We are all suffering the same problem and every athlete has to train at home, but for us boxers we need a training partner,” Mary Kom said after her triumph.

“I am so lucky, I could set up a little gym with equipment and a bag, but the only thing missing was a sparring partner which is most important for the eye contact and everything.”

In the pre-quarterfinals, Mary will face a tougher challenge in third-seeded Colombian Ingrit Valencia, who was a bronze medallist at the 2016 Rio Games. However, Kom has faced her twice before and won both times, including most recently in the 2019 World Championship quarter-finals.

“I have all the medals. Olympic medal (bronze) from 2012, Commonwealth Games gold, six-time gold at world championships. It’s not easy to count them, but the difficult part is continuously winning and performing, it’s not easy,” Kom said after the fight.

“What is left is the Olympic gold medal. That is what is driving me and pushing me to carry on. I am trying my best, if I am able to get it then I will be so grateful, but if not then I will still be so happy for all the medals I have won in the past.”