India judostar Tulika Maan to the next level
Tulika Man is quite light for a heavyweight. The Indian athlete is six feet tall and weighs 94kg, most of it solid muscle, flexed her biceps and roared in Amazonian celebration on making the final. In fact she gained some weight for the Commonwealth Games. The effort paid off with a previous silver medal. Tulika Maan is a busy lady and ready for another medal at the Asian Championships in Nur-Sultan, however not an easy draw in a pool of death and not really fit enough by her own admission but the vibe is good.
The 23-year-old came within a minute of winning a historic gold before being denied by the top seed, Scotland’s Sarah Adlington.
The mother and daughter have an unusual dynamic. Was there a tearful farewell when Tulika left for the airport? “Absolutely not. I told her leave and don’t come back. I’m spending all our money on you and have nothing left for myself or your (younger) sister.
Left alone, Tulika would get extremely bored. “She was very lonely by herself, so, she would keep pestering me to give her a brother or sister. So, I thought I’d put her in a sport just to keep her from getting bored. I did not have any idea about judo, but there was a martial arts academy near our house. It was complete luck that it was a judo academy. It was run by a woman and relatively cheap. I knew Tulika could at least spend two hours a day there,” said Amrita.
While it may have only meant to be a form of daycare, Tulika would end up finding a home as a judoka. It was a sport she enjoyed for it allowed her to express herself. “From the beginning, Tulika was a tomboy. She always played football with the boys. When she would wear a skirt to school, the neighbours would comment: ‘Look how Ganga (Tulika’s nickname) is wearing a skirt.’ It was funny to them. It was strange for me as well. I’d tell her: ‘Seeing you in a skirt is like seeing a Bagpiper (a whiskey bottle) in a car. It just doesn’t look right.’ But judo, that’s where she felt she belonged. Every evening when I’d come home from work to pick her up, they’d say what a good judo player she was,” said Amrita.
Maan did not have much competition to overcome domestically. As an 18-year-old, Tulika won her first senior national title at the weight. At the Asian Games trials in 2018, she lost both her matches. She weighed in at 130kg then, most of it not in muscle. Now she wants to loose weight and fight U78kg soon, definitely not impossible.
Yashpal Solanki, her coach now, recalled, “She couldn’t even jog or lift weights then. She had no stamina and little balance.”
Solanki, who reached the bronze medal match at the 1998 Asian Games, was initially hesitant to work with Tulika, who had another coach. He had built an impressive career in coaching after his days as a competitor. His student Avtar Singh had qualified for the Rio Olympics.
He advised Tulika, but resisted taking her on as a full-time student. Amrita, however, did not relent. “She kept insisting and eventually I agreed.”
Solanki worked on her fitness and confidence. Both are linked, according to the coach. “She was extremely overweight and not only did this make her a weaker judoka, it also made her very self-conscious about her appearance. You know how society is about women who are of a heavier build!”
He made Tulika work on developing her explosive strength and endurance. “She has lost 35kg. Now, she’s almost all muscle. Earlier, she couldn’t bench press more than 40kg and couldn’t do a single free squat. Now she benches 85kg and squats 120kg for repetitions. Earlier, she would run a 400m lap in 2 minutes. Now she does it in a minute and 15 seconds,” he said.
Tulika also benefited from a host of supportive judokas including Olympian Avtar Singh and Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Vijay Yadav. “They are like brothers to her and motivate her,” said Solanki.
As Tulika’s judo career blossomed, her expenses rose. “She had to travel for competitions. The government pays for some tournaments, but we pay for many more. Then there is kit and diet. I always complain to her that she’s eating me out of my house. I sometimes tell her if judo doesn’t work out, I’ll find three houses for her and have her wash dishes,” said her mother Amrita. She is quick to add in the same breath, “But I’m her mother after all. Of course, I’ll pay.”
Tulika’s self-confidence skyrocketed after she moved to Bhopal, according to Amrita. Her daughter changed in other ways, too. “Suddenly she became very girlish. It shocked me because she started wearing dresses and sarees. She’s changed so much now, so much so that now she wants my clothes from when I was ‘younger and thinner.’ I was so surprised but then she said, ‘Maa, are you not happy? After 23 years, your daughter is born.’”
Despite her loss in the final, Solanki is confident about Tulika’s growth. “She’s incredibly talented. If she keeps working hard, she could break India’s medal jinx at the Asian Games (the last of India’s five medals in judo came in 1994). She has the potential to reach the top eight at the Olympics,” he said.