Indian Express - Ahmedabad

Supermom Potkonen not yet Finnished

Date: 03/02/2018 | Edition: Ahmedabad | Page: 21 | Source: GAURAV BHATT | Clip size (cm): W: 9 H: 28

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Extracted Text data: Finland's Mira Potkonen (L) defeated Santa Devi in the 60kg final of the India Open on Friday. The Olympic bronze medallist began boxing only at the age of 28. Supermom Potkonen not yet Finnished GAURAV BHATT NEW DELHI. FEBRUARY 2 THOUGH STILL a major roadblock, preg-nancy need not be the end of the road for a sportsperson. as shown by several elite ath-letes. Heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill struck gold at the 2015 World Championships in 2015. nine months after delivering a son. and followed it with a silver at the Rio Olympics. Margaret Court and Kim ClUsters returned from maternity leave to win Grand Slam titles, and many peg Serena Williams to do the same. In the conversation about postnatal sporting triumphs being limited to come-back queens, one name is usually missing from it, which is unfortunate as Mira Potkonen's achievement is in a league of its own. Impressive as the second innings suc-cess stones are, the others were well estab-lished in their respective sports before tak-ing time off; indeed. some were veritable superstars of their arenas. The Finn, on the other hand. was already 28 when she took up a whole new sport to try and lose the weight she had gained during her second pregnancy, only to end up winning bronze medals at Worlds and Olympics. That she chose the physically demanding sport of box-ing makes Potkonen's accomplishment all the more impressive. "After trying gymnastics for a while, I joined a boxing gym for fitness where I was spotted by (coach) Maant Teuronen. She told me I was wasting my talent and asked me to consider it seriously." says the 37-year-old Potkonen, whose athletic endeavours were limited to dabbling in basketball, volleyball, ice hockey and skiing in school. "When I started training, I thought maybe I will play the national boxing competition. Forget win-ning the medal, I never even dreamt of mak-ing it to the Olympics." She almost didn't make it. Amateur box-ing's age limit of 34 made London 2012 the only shot at Olympic glory for then 31-year-old Potkonen. She lost the final qualifier and it seemed Finland would have to wait longer for its first female Olympian boxer. A year later, International Boxing Association (MBA) raised the limit to 40 years, clearing the way for Potkonen to qualify for Rio. where she de-feated Ireland's five-time Worlds gold-medallist and defending champion Katie Taylor in the quarterfinal. "Boxing has never been the top sport in • Finland. But after Rio, we are seeing many young girls coming up." says coach Teuronen — an eight-time national champion and Finland's representative at the inaugural World Championships in 2001.The 42-year-old has little regret about retiring before women's boxing made its Olympic debut. "I played my part. I started boxing in 1993, trained Potkonen and won medals at Worlds and Olympic through her." On Thursday. Potkonen defeated India's Sarita Devi to win the gold at the India Open. adding another wnnkle to the story. "Santa Potkonen (R) with her coach Maarit Teuronen after winning the gold. defeated me at the World Championship quarterfinals in 2006.1 missed out on a medal here in New Delhi. Through Mira, I have got revenge too." Teuronen laughs. adding. "It was a very close bout. Mira was able to find the angles and score points but Sarita is always a tough opponent." Santa. 35 and a mother herself, can iden-tify with Potkonen's struggles. "I have missed everything. My son has turned five and I can't remember how or when. It has all been a blur," said Sarita, who was over-whelmed by a surprise visit from her hus-band and son this week. "You can't explain how tough it gets. (Mira ) has two daughters, she has been very strong." Rough initial days The initial days. with no Skype or WhatsApp. were rough, Potkonen admits. She would have to leave her daughters with 'ice hockey mums' or neighbours. while hus-band Henri cut down on his music gigs to look after the family. "It was difficult to come home with no results to show for, even though I knew my game was improving," said Potkonen. whose winnings in 2016 totaled to €443 (ap-prox Its 35.000) in 2016, before she received a grant of €10,000 (approx Its 8 Iakh) for her Olympic exploits. "It was really frustrating at first but when you reach a level, it gets bet-ter. I don't have to do other jobs (like run-ning the bakery in the small town of Heinavesi) to support." Her daughters, 11 and 9. "have hobbies very different from boxing. But they now re-alise what their mother is doing and why she is away." There were opportunities to turn professional like sparring partner and WBC super-featherweight champion Eva Wahlstrom. But Potkonen's heart remains in the "Olympic-style." "Here, you have week-long tournaments and you don't know who you'll face next day. There's a lot more competition than professional. You are training and competing in different parts of the world." There's a more compelling reason. Tokyo Olympics are two years away, and Potkonen has no intention of slowing down, age be damned.