Linthoi Chanambam: Little champion's big history leaves world in shock
India's first ever Judo world champion, the 16-year-old Linthoi Chanambam, says she wants to be the country's first Olympic medallist in Judo next.
When Linthoi Chanambam had to leave her family in Manipur at the age of 11 after being spotted during a talent hunt back in 2017, her father had cried so much that her coach Mamuka Basilashvili had to wonder if he was doing the right thing in breaking the family up.
On Friday night, as the 16-year-old Linthoi became India's first ever Judo world champion at the World Cadet (U18) Championships in Sarejevo, all the struggles of the past five years finally bore fruit. But as Linthoi let out a lion's roar at the end of her match, she looked around in confusion to see her coach nowhere in sight.
"I knew I had done something incredible. I hadn't expected medals - or any history - but I had gone into the World Championships thinking I was ready to die on the mat. After my win, I looked around the arena to look for my coach but he was nowhere," Linthoi said.
The reason why Mamuka was nowhere to be seen was that he had become so excited at seeing history unfold in front of his eyes that he had to be forcibly ejected from the arena.
"I was very angry when the judges gave Linthoi a waza-ari instead of a ippon, which would have ended the match in the first minute. I shouted out in anger. That was when they gave me a first warning. Then, with 1:28 minutes left on the clock, I couldn't control myself when I saw a mistake," Linthoi's coach said.
His event accreditation was taken away as a punishment, but as news spread of an Indian world champion in Judo, things changed rapidly.
"The International Judo Federation called us for an interview. Everyone is in shock. Nobody thought there could be a world champion in Judo from India. This is a huge moment for the sport," Mamuka added.
Want to be first Olympic medallist from India: Judoka Linthoi Chanambam
Neither Linthoi nor Mamuka got a wink of sleep on Friday night as a storm of adulation was heaped upon the surprise world champion.
Back home in her village in Mayang Imphal, around 30kms from Manipur's capital, her tearful mother is the only person who she has had a chance to talk to so far.
"My father is a farmer and my mother is a housewife. I am the middle of three sisters. Because our family does not have a male child, I have always felt like a boy. All of my friends in my childhood were boys. Some of whom had to be taken to hospital after I beat them up," Linthoi said with a chuckle.
"My family has always been behind me. They have told me I have to beat people even if I am wrong," she laughed.
Having started in the sport of Judo because it was something all the children in her village did, Linthoi knows she hails from a state which has a strong tradition in Judo. But she still does not have any Indian role model. She said she wants to be known as the first of her kind. Her only role model is from Kosovo - Majlinda Kelmendi - who won that country's first Olympic medal in 2016.
"I will try to prepare for the Paris Olympics, but my eventual aim is to win India's first ever Olympic medal in Judo," said the tiny history-maker.