When teenaged judoka Thangjam Tababi Devi won silver at the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires two years ago, coaches marked the Manipur athlete as a bright medal prospect at the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Tababi Devi, who had reached the final in the U-44 kg class, looked on course when at 18 she won gold at the Asia-Oceania Cadet championships in July last year in the higher weight division (U-48kg). They could rejoice unearthing a great talent from a state known to produce many international woman athletes.
Barely a year on, India’s first woman judoka to achieve a podium finish at the Youth Olympics has left coaches dismayed by turning her back on the sport.
“Chor diya (have given up),” Tababi Devi said when reached on phone in Manipur, before cutting the line.
Sports Authority of India (SAI) judo coach Ching K Huirem, who is based in Imphal, says the young judoka has not trained since January. “I believe she has lost interest in sports at the moment. I tried to persuade her but...failed,” said Huirem, who has watched Devi grow in judo from a young age. “She married her long time friend (Herojit) earlier this year and has no plans to return anytime soon.”
Devi’s name has been struck off the list of 11 judokas announced recently for SAI’s development programme, to nurture them for the Paris Games. Her last major competition was at the Almaty world cadet championships in September, 2019, where she lost in the first round.
In 2017, the judoka was drafted into the junior development programme of JSW, training at its Inspire Institute of Sports in Karnataka. “She left for home before the lockdown in March and is yet to come back,” says former national coach Jeevan Sharma, who oversees training at the private facility.
Sharma says Devi is a big future hope and can’t understand why she isn’t keen to continue, having named Japan’s judo great, Ryuko Tamura, as her inspiration after the Youth Olympics showing. Sharma said: “I tried to convince her to take a break and comeback...we are waiting but she hasn’t returned.”
To draw Tababi Devi back to the mat, Huirem says JSW even offered a job for her husband, who coaches local judokas in their village near Imphal, but he hasn’t taken that up. “We’re hoping she changes her mind,” she said.
Huirem, who accompanied the national team to the youth Games in Argentina, says maybe Devi would realise later that sports is the way forward and that she should not waste her talent. “I bet that even if she moves to the next weight category, she will be a champion.”