New Delhi: Sarita Devi had raised a storm when she refused to accept her bronze medal at the Asian Games in Incheon. Two weeks after the furor, Sarita defended her manner of protest that nearly put her boxing career on the line.
In tears after losing a controversial semifinal bout against South Korean Ji Na Park, Sarita appealed against the split decision. The technical jury rejected it. The following day during the medal ceremony, the 29-year-old refused to wear her bronze medal in a dramatic protest that made international headlines much to the chagrin of the organisers and the sport's world governing body, AIBA.
"If this happens to a star athlete at something as big as the Asian Games, imagine what up-and-coming youngsters go through? I have no regrets for what I did... don't want others to suffer like me," Sarita told sports.ndtv.com on the sidelines of a felicitation ceremony in New Delhi on Monday.
There were mixed reactions from her own camp. Asian Games gold medal-winning boxer Mary Kom told NDTV that she would have chosen some other form of protest and didn't agree with Sarita refusing her medal.
Sarita said she was unaware of what Mary said of her protest. Both boxers belong to Manipur and hail from the capital, Imphal.
"Look, I only got to know what Mary had said from you now. I didn't read any of her comments on my protest but whatever she has said is her personal opinion," Sarita said. Both boxers may differ on the nature of protest at Incheon, but Sarita and Mary posed for photographs and chatted up each other during the ceremony.
Sarita had cheered Mary during the latter's gold-medal bout.
"We went for our medicals together and talked of other stuff. I had no idea what she said to the media about my protest during the medal ceremony.
"I received a lot of support from the other Indian athletes. Everyone was busy with their events but whenever we met up in the dining hall, they told me I had their full backing," said Sarita.
Sarita even accompanied Mary Kom to watch the latter's blockbuster biopic.
"I loved the movie on Mary Kom. It is a message for every husband to support their wife in everything they want to achieve. Look how much Mary has done for the country despite being a mother. So much has been made possible by her husband," said the soft-spoken Sarita, whose husband Thoiba was among those who vehemently protested after the controversial bout with Park in Incheon.
Just like Mary, Sarita wanted a piece of history but was left short by a split decision that denied her a shot at the lightweight gold.
"I had thought of quitting. But I stayed on and decided to give back all the love I have received from my countrymen. It was humbling to see them back me up. It has been 15 years for me as a boxer and I have seen plenty of highs and lows in my career," she said.
Sarita is now ready to move on from the Incheon setback and focus on the future. She has now invested her hopes in the new boxing federation, which has been recognised by AIBA, after the earlier body was suspended in 2012 for 'possible manipulation' in its elections.
"We faced a lot of problems in the last two years. I hope the new association does a lot more to ensure boxers get to participate in more international competitions and learn how to deal with pain," Sarita said.
After Mary raised the bar and Sarita nearly set her own in Korea, an expectant India will be keen to see how these two women persevere in the years to come as they chalk their paths to greater glories.