Manju Rani gives the inside view on her idol Mary Kom
While many wonder what drives a 37-year-old MC Mary Kom to compete and excel at the highest of levels even after all these years, a young Manju Rani might just know the answer.
Having idolized the boxing legend throughout her life, it was only in 2018 when a wide-eyed Haryana rookie had entered the national camp and finally met the 2012 London Olympics bronze medallist.
Manju Rani has since been training alongside her idol as both were part of India’s contingent last year at the World Boxing Championship, India Open, and other tournaments.
And after months of training, the 20-year-old pugilist now knows what separates Mary Kom from the rest.
“The primary thing I noticed is that she enjoys her training sessions a lot,” Manju Rani told the Olympic Channel.
“She also focuses more on her footwork than others,” she recalled the observations she had made.
“She has achieved a lot and I keep observing her whenever I get a chance. I want to become like her someday,” Manju Rani hoped.
Like her idol Mary Kom, Manju Rani also had to overcome hardships when she started out.
Born in Haryana’s Rital Phogat village Manju Rani had lost her father to liver cancer when she was only 10, and her mother had to open a cosmetics shop in the village to make ends meet.
Things got difficult when Manju Rani decided to take up boxing in 2012 after spending most of her childhood playing kabaddi under childhood coach Sube Singh Beniwal.
“I tried my hands at the district level and other places as well, but never really got a breakthrough at the big level and I didn’t win any medal until 2018,” Manju Rani said.
It was then that the coach, who had initiated Manju Rani into boxing, advised a change of scenery.
“I wasn’t selected from Haryana and decided to compete for the nationals from Punjab. I won the title this time,” she exclaimed.
A glorious 2019
There was no stopping Manju Rani after that.
Starting the year with a gold medal at the national championship, the rookie stunned everyone with a silver at the 2019 Strandja Memorial Tournament.
A second-place finish at one of Europe’s oldest and most competitive boxing events had cemented Manju Rani’s place in the national camp, which only boosted her confidence.
Though her training regime did not change much with her shift to the camp, the supportive environment helped Manju Rani improve significantly.
“Everything, from diet to workout tips, was better at the national camp. The training was obviously better than what I was having before,” the boxer said.
“I knew what attributes I was lacking, and I kept asking my coach about them. I focused more on improving them and then a fruitful season happened,” she added.
After showing consistency at the world level with a bronze medal at the Indian Open and the Thailand Open, the 48kg boxer upstaged former national champion Monika at the trials to seal a spot in India’s World Championship squad.
Ironing out the flaws
While Mary Kom (51kg), Jamuna Boro (54kg) and Lovlina Borgohain (69kg) had to settle for a bronze medal at the 2019 World Championships, a 19-year-old Manju Rani went all the way to the final.
And although the sixth-seeded Rani lost to second-seeded Ekaterina Paltceva of Russia 1-4 by a split decision in the final, the gold-medal bout remained a close affair with the Russian edging past the Indian with her near-perfect left hooks.
However, with the World Championship experience now in the bag, Manju Rani knows exactly what she must do to change her medal colour in the next edition of the tournament.
“I am working on my guard now. It stays low when I fight,” Manju Rani pointed out.
“Apart from that, I have to improve my footwork as well,” added the boxer, taking a leaf out of Mary Kom’s training.
One for the future
Despite all the promises, Manju Rani will not yet be a part of India’s largest boxing contingent that will travel to Tokyo next year.
Plying her trade in the non-Olympic light-flyweight category of 48kg, Rani has her eyes set on the 2024 Olympics in Paris, where she will compete in the 51kg category.
“I will give it [moving weight] a thought after two more years,” said Manju Rani.
“I have some knowledge in the 48kg category now and I want to grow more into it. Gradually, with more experience I will take up the 51kg category,” the 20-year-old concluded.