Five-time champion M C Mary Kom and former Asian gold-medallist L Sarita Devi began their campaign on a resounding note by notching up comfortable victories in their opening bouts of the AIBA World Womens Boxing Championships at Astana (Kazakhstan).
While Mary Kom outpunched Swedens Juliana Soderstrom 3-0, Sarita also got the better of Belarus Ala Yarshevich by a similar scoreline after dishing out thoroughly dominating performances. Mary Kom set up a clash on Saturday with Germanys Azize Nimani, who stunned Asian Games bronze-medallist Nandintsetseg Myagmardulam of Mongolia. Sarita, on the other hand, will square off against Mexicos Victoria Torres, who got a first-round bye. Both the veterans are eyeing not just medals but also Olympic berths in this event. The duo will have to make at least the semifinal to be assured of a ticket to Rio.
In a clinical performance, Mary Kom outsmarted an opponent, who had the height and reach advantage. The 32-year-old Indian had worked hard on her reflexes ahead of the tournament and the efforts were there to be seen as she easily out-witted Soderstroms attempts at attacking her.
The Asian Games gold-medallist used her left hooks to telling effect against Soderstrom, who failed miserably in capitalising on her reach. In fact, the Swede looked clueless whenever Mary Kom mounted an attack. While Mary Kom was all precision in her punches, especially the right jabs, Soderstroms swings were mostly off-target. Every attempt that the Swede made at attacking was blocked brilliantly by the swift-moving Manipuri. Even though Soderstrom did manage to make an impression in the fourth round, she had already lost the larger battle to her more experienced Indian rival.
In the end, it was hardly a surprise that the judges unanimously picked Mary Kom as the winner. Sarita was as aggressive, if not more, in her contest against Yarshevich. The Asian Games bronze-medallist took hardly a few seconds to get a measure of her rival and then went about decimating her with consummate ease.
Like Mary Kom, Sarita also relied on the left-hook-right-jab combination to unsettle her opponent, who was on the backfoot all through. The Indian, in fact, did not have to defend much against a rather timid Yarshevich. The prestigious event — the final qualifying event for women boxers in the three Olympic categories of 51kg, 60kg, and 75kg — has 12 Rio tickets on offer.