The opponents of World Cadet Judo Championship gold medallist Linthoi Chanambam bore the brunt of her prowess on the mat here but not long ago her male friends in her native town in Manipur had faced the same.
The 16-year-old Linthoi, who on Friday became the first Indian to win a medal in the World Championships across any age-group, used to beat up boys while growing up at Mayang Imphal, around 25km from state capital Imphal.
Her helpless parents had to take the injured boys to nearby hospital.
“I took up Judo in my childhood as I believed myself to be a boy and not a girl And, as a kid, I hardly had friends who were girls. Most of them were boys,” a beaming Linthoi said during a virtual media interaction.
“So, I used to fight with them a lot and ended up injuring some of them as well. My parents had to take them to the hospital, at times,” she said with a laugh.
Linthoi has a humble background. Her father is a farmer and mother a home maker. She has two other siblings, an older and a younger sister.
She scripted history by defeating Brazilian Bianca Reis in the women’s 57kg category event final on Friday.
“I feel absolutely great. It is an incredible feeling. I feel like I did something from the bottom of my heart and here is the result,”
“I started Judo from 2014 and I came to Inspire Institute of Sports (IIS) in Bellary in October, 2017. The last five years, with so much of support from everyone, my life has really changed.”
Linthoi said her father played a pivotal role in reaching where she is right now.
“The academy where I was previously part of before joining IIS was at a stone’s throw distance from my home. So, my father always accompanied me during my practice sessions,” she said.
“I always wanted to take up a sport like Judo from a very young age. In fact, I love boxing and football as well. But there were quite a few Judo academies near my home town. That’s what attracted me most about this sport and my family supported me from the very beginning,” she added.
The journey, however, has been quite difficult for Linthoi as it was not easy for her to bid adieu to her parents in Imphal and come straight to Bellary in Karnataka.
“It was very difficult. I always stayed with my father. The day I went to Telangana for the National Championships, my dad was crying inconsolably,” laughs Linthoi.
“It was very difficult for me to console her father. They do have a very good bonding. But, yeah, she proved, that she is an extraordinary talent and too good,” quipped her coach Mamuka Kizilashvili.
All of 16, Linthoi has many feathers in her cap. Apart from being the reigning cadet world champion, she first won a gold at the sub-junior national championship in 2018.
In 2021, she clinched gold in the National Championships in Chandigarh. It was followed by another gold at the Asian Cadet and Junior Judo Championships in July this year.
“I first saw her in Telangana. I was part of the talent identification development programme that unearths talented judokas from all over India,” Mamuka recollected.
“When I visited Imphal, I was surprised to see the passion people have for the sport there. The first time I saw her, I instantly knew that she has something in her to become a world class athlete, although she was very young then.
“When as a coach, you start training an athlete from such a young athlete, it is very easy to mould them. It really worked for her too. She also proved it big time.”
Mamuka said Linthoi’s gold-winning feat was a historic achievement and could change Indian Judo in the coming days.
“Both the Indian government and the Sports Authority of India are doing the right things to support the athletes. For instance, Linthoi was only 13 when we recommended her to SAI. And, they funded her from that very moment,” he said.
Linthoi has already set sights to perform at the bigger stage, including the Paris Olympic Games in 2024.
“I will try my best to win a gold medal in Paris. But, if not in Paris, I am sure I can do it at the 2028 Olympics (in Los Angeles),” Linthoi signed off.