Indian judoka Linthoi Chanambam, 16, created history after winning India’s first-ever medal in Judo World Championships on Friday, August 26, 2022. Her two families were united in celebrating this victory — one in Manipur, and the other in Georgia.
When the Covid-19 pandemic attacked the world in the year 2020 and as the first lockdown was imposed worldwide, Chanambam was stuck for nine months in Akhmeta, a town located in eastern Georgia with a population of approx. 8,000. The hometown of her coach Mamuka Kizilashvii, Akhmeta, a judo hub which has produced two Olympic champions, became Chanambam’s second home, as she formed a close bond with her coach’s extended family of 30.
Just after Chanambam defeated Brazil’s Reis Bianca by Waza-ari throw— the second highest score a fighter can achieve in a Japanese martial arts ippon or waza-ari contest — to win the gold at the World Cadet Championships in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kizilashvii’s family was the first to receive a picture of Chanambam posing with the gold medal and they were soon on a video call.
“It was a difficult time for the whole world, as it was for us too. But coach Kizilashvii’s family made sure that I was always happy, although I was far away from my parents and family,” Judoka Chanambam from Sarajevo said.
The restrictions on international flights offered Chanambam an opportunity to enable her to train against some of the top judokas in the town from where Athens Olympic winner Zurab Zviadauri (2004) and Beijing Olympics champion Irakali Tsirekidze (2008) hail from.
“We were training in Georgia when the lockdown was imposed, so we could not return to India as planned. Most of the national judo players come to train there. Chanambam would train against the likes of world junior champion Eteri Liparteliani,” her coach Kizilashvii said.
Recalling her first steps in judo in Mayang, Manipur, where her father is a fish farmer and works as a mason, and mother is a part-time tailor and homemaker, Chanambam said, “My father owns half an acre of land on which there is a fish pond. We are not rich, but my parents are very determined people. They never let me stop dreaming about winning a big medal in judo.”
The annual earning of the family is approximately INR 80,000.
Accentuating her career, Chanambam said, “I started off by playing football, and then tried my hand in boxing before focussing on judo. I trained in judo like my life depended on it.”
“Her strength and willpower are her biggest strengths,” said Angom Surjit Meitei, coach at the Mayai Lambi Sports Academy, where Chanambam was first trained. “She would never miss a training session and would also help her family in managing the fish pond,” Meitei said.
Five years back, when she was just 11 years old, Chanambam had to leave her home to move to Bellary in Karnataka, after being selected by the Inspire Institute of Sport (IIS). “I am very attached to my father. We cooked meals together and ate together. When I won the sub-junior national title and IIS coaches told me about my selection, we both cried a lot as I had to leave home,” she reminisced.
So far, winning the title at Judo World Championships has been Chanambam’s biggest achievement. “After the final, I felt like I had done something incredible (for my country),” she said.
Earlier, Manipuris- Lourembam Brojeshori had participated in the Olympics of 2000 while Khumujam Tombi represented India in the 2008 Olympics.
The well-known Indian female boxer (nicknamed Magnificent Mary), MC Marry Kom and another boxer Laishram Devendro represented in the Olympics of 2012 in which Mary Kom had won a bronze medal to set a record to become the first Manipuri to win a medal in the Olympics.