Manipur has been producing several sportspersons who have gone on to win medals at various national and international events, bringing laurels to the state as well as the nation.
The 26-year-old Sushila Devi Likmabam became the fifth athlete from Manipur to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics after legendary boxer M.C. Mary Kom, medal hopeful weightlifter Mirabai Chanu, and women’s and men’s hockey players Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam and Shanglakpam Nilakanta Sharma respectively.
Born on February 1, 1995 to Likmabam Manihar Singh and Likmabam Ongbi Chaobi Devi, Sushila had a knack for winning medals right from her village and local level sporting events to the Commonwealth Games. It was her uncle, Likmabam Dinit, an international judo player, who took her to Khuman Lampak in December of 2002. Sushila Devi stayed at the Khuman Lampak SAI hostel, and that’s where her journey began.
Under the tutelage of Deven Moirangthem and Kh. Sabitri Chanu of SAI Special Area Games (SAG), Sushila won numerous gold medals at the schools and junior national level. As a junior judoka, her biggest breakthrough came in the 2010 Commonwealth Judo Championship, Singapore, where she won the gold medal. Young Sushila was turning heads at the national selection committee with her scintillating performances at the youth level.
And at the start of 2010, Sushila switched her training centre to the NIS Centre of Excellence at Patiala, ending her eight-year association with Moirangthem and Sabitri Chanu (2003 to 2010). A new chapter began in her career under the guidance of Jeevan Sharma.
At the 2011 Asian Youth Judo Championships, Sushila won the Best Judoka of Asia medal. After an uneventful 2012, the Manipuri judoka bounced back with two successive National Youth titles in 2013 and 2014, while also winning bronze at the 2013 Asian Youth Championships, coming short of replicating her performances from 2011.
Her consistent performances and raw potential earned her a place in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Though not much was expected of her, she pulled off one upset after the other as she won silver in the 48kg category. However, she could not repeat her exploits at the 2014 Asian Games and bowed out during the early rounds.
Talking to the press after her early exit from the Asian Games, Sushila said: “Judo is not such a popular sport in this country. So the government doesn’t sanction enough funds. I hope the scene will change now. Perfection comes with practice. We should be sent for more international events so that we can raise our standards. On the other hand, emphasis should also be given on more national events to bring in young talents.”
Players in every corner of this country have enough talent and enough capabilities to win medals at the national and international levels. But the lack of proper facilities has always kept them on the backfoot. The reason why we are a cricketing powerhouse is largely down to one key component, i.e., excellent infrastructure.
Marred by financial constraints and a lack of adequate facilities, Sushila missed the cut for the 2016 Rio Olympics, while registering only one medal (gold) in two years at the 2016 South Asian Games. In the meantime, by the start of 2017, she started receiving job offers from outside the state, but declined them as she wanted to play and win medals for her native Manipur. Later, she was offered a job as a constable in Manipur Police in June 2017.
For better performance and good facilities, after taking permission from the Home Department, Government of Manipur, Sushila joined the Inspired Institution of Sports (IIS) under JSW in 2017. The Manipuri judoka got instant results as she won eight gold medals and a silver medal in the 11 events she competed in from 2017 till the COVID-19 pandemic-enforced break.
On June 25, 2021, the International Judo Federation (IJF) confirmed that the 26-year-old had clinched one of the continental quotas for the Tokyo Olympics as one of the two highest-ranked Asians outside the top 18 on the Olympic Games Quota (OGQ) Rankings, which is based on performance over the past 24 months.
With Asia receiving 10 continental quotas each for men and women, the Judo Union of Asia decided to allocate two of these slots for the women’s extra-lightweight (48kg) category. Sushila Devi, ranked 46th on the OGQ Rankings with 989 points, is the highest-ranked Asian outside the top 18 in her weight division and thus, qualified for the Tokyo Olympics.
Sushila Devi Likmabam is India’s lone judoka who has qualified for the 2020 Olympics. Her representation may become the spark that the sport needs to prosper in India.
Judo at the Tokyo Games will be played at the Nippon Budokan from 24-31 July.