Young Gun Of India: Tababi Devi Thangjam
You started your tryst with judo at a young age of 16. How did this come about?
In my village, I used to get into a lot of fights, and one of my neighbours with whom I would fight was a judo player. I saw her and thought that I should also take up the sport. Initially, I started training on my own and subsequently, told my parents that I wanted to train professionally. That’s when I was scouted into the Inspire Institute of Sport (IIS) Judo program in 2017 and since then, my career has truly taken off.
The first Indian judoka to have ever receive a medal at the Olympics, how does it feel to have achieved this honour?
I felt very proud that I represented India at such a big stage and won a medal for my country. I had competed and won at the Asian level before, but I had no idea about what to expect competing at a global level with some of the best athletes from around the world. I aimed to win the gold, but I also took back an amazing learning experience from Argentina, where I had some great results on the way to the finals. The fact that I was given the honour of donating my judogi (judo jacket) to the Olympic Museum after my performance was just the icing on the cake.
You come from a humble background where your parents didn’t have adequate funds to support your dream, but they stuck by you at all times. Were they always this committed to your idea of taking judo as a career?
My family was always very supportive of my dream of pursuing judo. Hailing from a small town in Manipur, it is not easy to take up a sport which doesn’t enjoy widespread popularity, as the means to succeed in the same becomes limited. I have been fortunate to have the right kind of nurturing and platform to excel.
How do you think more women can be encouraged to get into the sport?
I think more girls should be supported to do what they like. If there’s someone interested, they should be given the means to take their interest further. Getting more girls to play a sport when they are young is a good start and will go a long way.
Do you ever worry that judo will take up too much of your youth, restricting you from experiencing other things?
I have loved sports and games for as long as I can remember. If I wasn’t playing judo, I would probably have been playing some other sport, so I can’t think of anything that I miss doing at the moment. Sports has played a very important role in my life and has helped me make a name for myself. So, I am ready to focus only on judo and not worry about missing out on anything else.
Could you describe your training regimen and preparation for big events like the 2018 Olympics or the Asian Judo Championship?
We follow a fairly disciplined training regimen that is suited to our needs. For example, before major tournaments, the training is more focused on technical aspects that need work. But on a normal day, our training regimen includes a few hours of gym or track training in the morning, followed by an evening session on the mat. The time in between is spread between physio sessions, rest, recovery, and academics.
Who have been your biggest influences in judo during your training? How did they inspire you?
I have always been inspired by Ryoko Tamura of Japan, who is by far the best female judoka ever and has even been given that title by the International Judo Federation. She started very young and has won five Olympic medals including two gold. I look up to her success and want to be like her and win medals at the Olympics for my country.
What’s next for you on the sports front and what upcoming events are you preparing for?
I want to stick to the more near-term targets that I have set with my coach, Mamuka Kizilashvili. I just won a gold at the Asian Cadet Championships in Taipei and I want to excel at the Cadet World Championships since this is my last year as a cadet. For that, I might also be going for a training camp to Japan with some fellow IIS judoka, which will be a huge exposure. My main target is the 2024 Olympics in Paris, which has also been a long-term goal for me. The upcoming 2020 Olympics isn’t a realistic target for me as I still need to work on certain areas to be competing with the best in the world. I will have lots of opportunities to represent India during the upcoming period and I am focused on doing my best and bring India a medal at the Paris Olympic Games.