For Manipur’s Leimapokpum Sanatombi Chanu, winning a Gold medal is a routine affair. The veteran Wushu player bagged her fourth Gold, and fifth overall National Games medal when she topped the standings in the Tai Chi event of Wushu’s Taolu division here.
But what makes her Gold at the Campal Open Ground special is that this is her first National Games Gold after giving birth to a baby girl last year. Sanatombi returned to the mat within six months and made her way back to the National Camp in Patiala by clinching a gold at the Senior Nationals in November last year.
Her feat also kept her in the hunt for an Asian Games berth in Hangzhou, but she was not sent to China as she had not participated in any international competition since 2019.
“I had earlier won three Golds (a silver in 2007, two gold in 2011, one gold in 2015), but this is a special one as I left my one and half year-old daughter back home in Manipur as her father also on National Games assignment with another team,” Sanatombi said.
“It was initially very tough to restart training after delivery as muscle development became exceedingly difficult and OKI had to start with slight jogging, before gradually opting for strength training. In three months, I had the senior national championships (in November, 2022) and I wanted to win it at all costs to regain my confidence. I eventually took the gold to find my place back in the national camp,” she added.
Born to a paddy farmer from Imphal East, Sanatombi is the third among five sisters, and has overcome numerous financial obstacles since taking up the sport in 2004.
“There were occasions when I would miss tournaments as I couldn’t manage the money for tickets, but always had the belief that someday things would change for the better. The moment came in 2007 after I got a cash award of 1.70 lakh. That helped me repay the debts, and the 2011 gold meant that I could now support my family,” she added.
Sanatombi has been a dominant force in the senior national arena since making her debut in 2007 with a Gold and managed a hat-trick of Golds till 2009 before a dip in performance saw her pocket a Silver in 2011. However, since then it has been a Gold rush for the now 34-year-old with top finishes across all editions of the National championships till 2022.
In international tournaments, Sanatombi boasts of two Golds from the South Asian Games and a 2016 World Cup bronze besides a 2017 Bronze at the BRICS championships.
Married to James Boy Singh, a coach involved with the Services Canoeing and Kayaking teams, Sanatombi said she didn’t have the opportunity to catch up with her better half despite the couple being in the same state.
“Our communication is mostly virtual despite being in the same state. I’m involved with my sport, and he’s a coach, so we couldn’t manage time to meet each other. Also, we have our kid with her aunt. Hope one day she understands our sacrifice,” said an emotional Sanattombi.
An ASI with Manipur Police, Sanatombi hopes to continue playing for another couple of years, and has her eyes on taking up coaching once she retires from the sport. But for now, her hunger for gold lives on.