Updated: Mon, 26 Mar 2012 20:07:17 GMT | By pa.press.net

Mary Kom

India Mary Kom

Mary Kom during the women's 46kg boxing at the 2008 World Championships. (© Press Association)

Mary Kom (right) during the women's 46kg boxing at the 2008 World Championships.

Born: 01/03/1983

Place of birth: Manipur

Event: Boxing

Previous Olympics: 0

Previous medals: 0

Every Olympian can no doubt recall the sacrifices they have made to reach the pinnacle of their sport, but few stories are likely to be quite so remarkable or inspiring as that of Mary Kom.

She is the woman who has defied convention to become a five-time boxing world champion and carry the hopes of a nation on her slender shoulders.

'Magnificent Mary', as she has been dubbed, won her fifth consecutive World Boxing Championships gold medal in September 2010 in Barbados and she is one of the stars of the women's competition as it makes its Olympic debut at London 2012.

But her route to the top has been far from straightforward.

Born into a poor family in the state of Manipur, Kom grew up working in the fields alongside her parents and taking care of her siblings.

An all-round athlete in her youth, it was Dingko Singh's gold medal at the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok that inspired her to take up boxing. However, not only was Kom attempting to break into a male-dominated sport but she also had to keep her passion from her parents, and it was not until they saw her picture in the local newspaper after Kom had won a state championship that her secret finally came out.

"It was tough as I had to lie to my parents every day but I was sure that if I was successful, I would be able to convince them," she told Olympic Review. "Luckily for me, I succeeded at state level and thereafter could persuade my parents with the help of my cousins."

It was the start of an amazing run for Kom as, after winning silver at the AIBA World Championships in 2001 in the USA, she claimed gold at the next three editions, culminating in an emotional triumph in New Delhi in 2006.

However, another test was just around the corner as Kom took a two-year sabbatical from the sport to give birth to twins. Any notion motherhood would dull her competitive fire was comprehensively dispelled, though, when she returned in 2008 to claim a fourth world gold in China.

While admitting it is tough to balance family life - her son underwent heart surgery last year - with the demands of boxing (training begins at 5.30am every morning), the Manipur Police deputy superintendent admits she feels blessed.

She says she is indebted not only to her husband, K. Onler, for his unwavering support but also to the sport that has offered her a chance of a better life.