16-year-old, Tababi Devi Thangjam is India’s first judoka to win an Olympic medal
Tababi Devi Thangjam added a second medal to India’s tally at the 2018 Youth Olympics when she clinched silver in women’s 44 kg judo at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games held in Buenos Aires. In the process, this talented teenager from Manipur became India’s first judoka to win an Olympic medal at any level. In an exclusive interview, we find out more about this rising sportswoman.
Tell us little about your background
I was born in Kokchai Makha Leikai in Manipur’s Mayang. My family consists of my mother, father and four other siblings. My parents sell fish for a living, earning around 300 to 500 rupees monthly. Also, they work as daily wagers. I was in my 11th standard, studying in City Higher Secondary School but after I began to excel in judo, I had to shift to Bengaluru for better training. From 2017, a company named GSW in Bengaluru took the responsibility for my training, I was introduced to them by my coaches. Before that, I used to train in a local club back in my hometown called the Mayai Lambi Sports Academy under coach Surachandra Singh.
When did you start playing judo? How did you start your training back in Manipur?
I started playing judo while I was 8 years old. In Manipur, judo is a popular game. The Mayai Lambi Sports Academy in Imphang was just 3 km from my home. It has been operating from 2008 and the training is free for us. I was blessed and lucky to have a club nearby. Most children in my hometown go to the club to play different games. I liked playing judo and slowly my coach trained me, as I started playing very well. We used to go to the club in the evening at 3:30 pm after school and train for around two to three hours.
How tough has the journey been so far? Tell us about your support system.
Obviously, my parents have been my support. The little money they earn by selling fish, they did spend it on my food. They don’t have much knowledge about the game; still they never stopped me from playing. I have four other siblings who have also helped me a lot. Also, my coaches Sorjit Meitei Sir, Surachandra Singh Sir and Rupachandra Singh Sir have guided me at different stages of my training.
Initially I had no idea about national and international judo matches. I used to play because I liked the game. It was my coaches who introduced to the different games and I started performing well in them. The Manipur Judo Association has also helped me with travelling costs, jerseys and also dietary requirements. Initially, in our club we did not have the proper carpets and platform for practice, but later, Manipur Judo Association helped us get it.
In 2017, I came to GSW but my basic training was done in Manipur itself. I won all 18 medals from Mayai Lambi Sports Academy itself. I think the club needs to be recognised as well as my coaches. Before, the sports department in Manipur was not very active, but things are changing now.
How does it feel to be the first Indian to win a medal at any Olympic event in Judo?
I am immensely happy to be the first one to become the first Indian in this aspect. I wanted to earn gold at the Youth Olympics. But I am still happy to settle for the silver. I bagged two silvers in Youth Olympics, one in the individual category and the second as a team. I shall go for gold in my next Olympic event and World Championship.
I was not aware of the record before, only after winning the match, we came to know that this is the first medal in an Olympic event for India.
What’s next and what are the upcoming events you are preparing for?
As I am just 16 years old, I still have to wait for two more years to play in the senior category. But I have played in most of the junior level national and international judo championships. Now I am training myself for the senior category, even though it is early. I will continue playing in the junior category for two years till I enter the senior category.
Next, I will participate in Commonwealth Judo Championship from 4th of November in Jaipur, in the 48 kg category. I will also be playing in the upcoming Junior Cadet Asia, and Junior Championship Asia. And, in December, I will take part in the National Junior Judo Championship that will be held in Assam.
This interview was first published in Eclectic Northeast Magazine (November Issue, 2018)