A few hours had gone by. Video calls with the family, a magnanimous team dinner (where everyone, from Mary Kom to the support staff, had come up to her to congratulate her), and a couple of interviews had already been completed.
And yet, after all these things, it had not sunk in. After all, you do not win a World Championship silver — and that too, on your first try — every day.
When 19-year-old Manju Rani, the country’s latest boxing hero, picked up the phone in Ulan-Ude, Russia, her voice still had a hint of bitterness. “I really wanted to bring home the gold medal and make my country proud,” she told The Bridge.
“I was the only one to go into the finals out of everyone (Indians) and I knew I had to deliver because it was all up to me now. So, that pressure to perform was definitely there as I knew they were expecting,” she continued.
But it wasn’t to be. The Indian youngster, who was seeded sixth, went down 4-1 to the second-seeded Ekaterina Paltceva of Russia in a highly contested finale.
‘Decision was always going to be swayed’
There was very little separating Manju Rani and the local favourite. Both the boxers started with attacking intent in the first round of the 48kg final with the Russian standing out for her near-perfect left hooks. In the second round, it was Manju who connected some good hits and appeared to have the upper hand.
As the bout entered the final round both the contestants adopted a cautious approach. It looked like the Indian had won — the crowd thought so, the Indian coaches thought so, even Manju thought so. But, at the end of it, the Russian emerged victorious by virtue of a split decision.
“My coaches had shown me her bouts to pick up on the techniques. It helped me prepare for the final, at least strategically. I knew my opponent was not very tough. In fact, the bout against Korea in the quarters, that was a very difficult match. She is the World Number 1, so she was very tough and that win gave me massive confidence,” the Haryana-born boxer said when asked about the final.
“From my front, I had won. I had given my very best. Anyway, the opponent was a local and the decision had to sway to that side a bit. I know how I’ve played and with the silver, I have to be satisfied now. I’ll try to change the colour to gold in the future,” she added.
‘My mother always said, ‘Be like Mary Kom’’
Wasn’t she a little depressed after the final when she had to settle for silver? “I was (a little sad). But, after the final, my parents also told me it doesn’t matter if I didn’t get the gold. They told me I’ve played well and supported me,” Manju said.
Incidentally, Mary Kom had also won a silver medal in her debut at the World Championships back in 2001 in the same weight category. At the recently concluded meet in Russia, she claimed her eighth World Championship medal, a record for any boxer (male or female). Any budding boxer would want to emulate her and it’s true for Manju as well.
“Mary didi is a legend in her own right. She helps me a lot, she comes to my bouts and keeps giving me tips. She did not say anything particular before the final but just her presence was inspiring enough for me,” the Strandja Memorial silver medallist said.
“I had worked very hard for it. At first, we had the trials of the Asian Championships and over there I didn’t get selected. But I told myself to not be so disappointed as it was just one Championship that I missed out on, there were others too. I put in the hard work for the World Championships and now I have won a medal,” Manju said as if she still could not believe it. “It’s been that kind of a year for me, you know. I haven’t won laurels all along and suddenly winning so much makes me very happy.”
While Manju does not compete in an Olympic weight category currently, she has her sights set on an Olympic medal in future, just like her idol Mary Kom had won one. For now, her next challenge will be the upcoming U-22 Asian Championships.