Judoka Linthoi reveals beating up boys while growing up in Manipur; aims to clinch Olympic gold
16-year-old Linthoi Chanambam became the first Indian to win a gold medal in the World Championships across any age-group at the World Cadet Judo Championship in Sarajevo on Friday.
World Cadet Judo Championship gold medallist Linthoi Chanambam's opponents in Sarajevo took the brunt of her skill on the mat, but her male friends in her hometown of Manipur had recently experienced the same thing.
The 16-year-old Linthoi used to beat up guys while growing up in Mayang Imphal, a village about 25 kilometres from the state capital Imphal, and who on Friday became the first Indian to win a medal in any age group at the World Championships. The injured boys had to be transported to a local hospital by her helpless parents.
"I took up Judo in my childhood as I believed myself to be a boy and not a girl And, as a kid, I hardly had friends who were girls. Most of them were boys," a beaming Linthoi said during a virtual media interaction.
"So, I used to fight with them a lot and ended up injuring some of them as well. My parents had to take them to the hospital, at times," she said with a laugh.
Linthoi comes from a humble background. Her mother is a housewife, while her father is a farmer. She also has an older brother and a younger sister. She wrote history by overcoming Brazilian Bianca Reis in the women's 57kg category event final on Friday.
"I feel absolutely great. It is an incredible feeling. I feel like I did something from the bottom of my heart and here is the result. I started Judo from 2014 and I came to Inspire Institute of Sports (IIS) in Bellary in October, 2017. The last five years, with so much of support from everyone, my life has really changed," she said.
Linthoi said her father played a pivotal role in reaching where she is right now. "The academy where I was previously part of before joining IIS was at a stone's throw distance from my home. So, my father always accompanied me during my practice sessions," she said.
"I always wanted to take up a sport like Judo from a very young age. In fact, I love boxing and football as well. But there were quite a few Judo academies near my home town. That's what attracted me most about this sport and my family supported me from the very beginning," she added.
The journey, however, has been quite difficult for Linthoi as it was not easy for her to bid adieu to her parents in Imphal and come straight to Bellary in Karnataka. "It was very difficult. I always stayed with my father. The day I went to Telangana for the National Championships, my dad was crying inconsolably," laughs Linthoi.
"It was very difficult for me to console her father. They do have a very good bonding. But, yeah, she proved, that she is an extraordinary talent and too good," quipped her coach Mamuka Kizilashvili.
Linthoi, who is only 16, has a long list of accomplishments. She first took home a gold medal at the sub-junior national championship in 2018 and is currently the reigning cadet world champion. She won gold at the Chandigarh National Championships in 2021. At the Asian Cadet and Junior Judo Championships in July of this year, another gold medal was won after that.
"I first saw her in Telangana. I was part of the talent identification development programme that unearths talented judokas from all over India," Mamuka recollected.
"When I visited Imphal, I was surprised to see the passion people have for the sport there. The first time I saw her, I instantly knew that she has something in her to become a world class athlete, although she was very young then. When as a coach, you start training an athlete from such a young athlete, it is very easy to mould them. It really worked for her too. She also proved it big time," Mamuka added.
Mamuka said Linthoi's gold-winning feat was a historic achievement and could change Indian Judo in the coming days. "Both the Indian government and the Sports Authority of India are doing the right things to support the athletes. For instance, Linthoi was only 13 when we recommended her to SAI. And, they funded her from that very moment," he said.
Linthoi has already set sights to perform at the bigger stage, including the Paris Olympic Games in 2024. "I will try my best to win a gold medal in Paris. But, if not in Paris, I am sure I can do it at the 2028 Olympics (in Los Angeles)," Linthoi signed off.
(With inputs from PTI)