(Photo Courtesy: Google Image)
NEW DELHI, NOV 14: Celebrated boxer MC Mary Kom will aim for a historic sixth gold at the AIBA Women' World Championships, the build up of which has been marred by a row over lone Kosovan boxer's participation and poor quality air in the national capital.
The 10th edition of the championships, set to be the biggest ever with more than 300 participants from 72 countries, is being held in the backdrop of boxing's uncertain Olympic future in the aftermath of controversial Uzbek businessman Gafur Rakhimov's election as President.
Commensurate with its status as global power in women's boxing with the third most number of medals in the history of the event, India is hosting the championships for the second time after 2006 when the country topped the table with eight medals (4 gold, 1 silver, 3 bronze).
The 10-member Indian team, which is a mix of seasoned and young boxers, is unlikely to repeat the 2006 feat but is expecting at least three medals, including a gold.
The 35-year-old Mary Kom, who is India's biggest hope, is tied with Katie Taylor on five gold medals and one more will make her the most successful woman boxer in history since the Irish pugilist has turned a Pro.
The 'Magnificent Mary', who will fight in the 48 kg, will also look to win her second gold in front of the home crowd.
She has enjoyed a stellar year so far, claiming gold medals at the Commonwealth Games, the inaugural India Open and the International Tournament in Poland.
However, the 2012 Olympics bronze medallist is aware that the road to gold will not be easy.
"Mary Kom in boxing is the same as Maradona in football. She is a big talent. She is a big prospect for the gold medal," Bergamasco told Timesofindia.com in an exclusive interview.
"There are boxers who are still playing in my category since 2001. I know them very well. The new boxers are tougher and smarter, they are faster. I will use my experience. The past boxers are more or less the same, I know them," Mary Kom said.
Another veteran who will be seeking her second gold at the championships will be Mary Kom's Manipur statemate L Sarita Devi who will feature in 60kg. She has five Asian titles besides winning gold in 2006 here.
The other eight in the team are Pinky Jangra (51 Kg), Manisha Maun (54 Kg), Sonia (57 Kg), Simranjit Kaur (64 Kg), Lovlina Borgohain (69 Kg), Saweety Boora (75 Kg), Bhagyabati Kachari (81 Kg) and Seema Poonia (+81 Kg).
The 10-day championships, which run till November 24, will feature a host of Olympic and World Championship medallists.
Italy's Alessia Mesiano will be defending the featherweight title she won two years ago, while 2016 silver medallists Kaye Scott of Australia, Thai Peamwilai Laopeam, Russia's Anastasiia Beliakova are gold medal contenders.
Other gold medal contenders include Virginia Fuchs (51 kg) of United States, Lin Yu Ting (54 kg) of Chinese Taipei, Yin Junhua (57 kg) of China, Mira Potkonen (60 kg) of Finland, Gu Hong (69 kg) of China, Nouchka Fontijn (75 kg) of the Netherlands, Wang Lina (81 kg) and defending champion Yang Xiaoli (+81 kg), both from China.
The build-up to the tournament was, however, marred by the controversy of Kosovo boxer Donjeta Sadiku's participation in the global event.
India does not recognise Kosovo -- a disputed territory in South Eastern Europe -- and the government is yet to grant visas to the boxer and her two coaches.
The Indian Olympic Association fears that the country may lose out on hosting major international sporting events in future, if the lone boxer from Kosovo will not be allowed to compete at the championships.
The International Olympic Committee had recently sent letters to international federations not to award major events to Spain after athletes from Kosovo were not allowed to participate under their own flag at the Karate World Championships there.
Delhi's deteriorating air pollution was also a topic of discussion in the run-up to the tournament though it was a mixed bag for the boxers. Some participants expressed concern at the poor quality air while others felt it will not impact much as boxing was basically an indoor sport.