COVID, Ailing Mother, Broken Friendships: Lovlina's Rough Road to Tokyo Bronze
Lovlina Borgohain won the Bronze Medal in the women's welterweight division on Wednesday, 4 August.
Lovlina Borgohain comes across as someone who strives to take control of her own destiny. How else could she have translated immense self-belief into accomplishing something that only two other Indian boxers have done before?
The Olympic bronze is reward for acting, and playing, as if it were impossible to fail.
Indeed, a couple of things have stood out in her Olympic Games campaign. Her opening bout, against Germany’s Nadine Apetz, was part nervousness and part business. But the quarter-final against Nien Chin Chen (Chinese Taipei), who had beaten her twice in 2019, was all about intelligence and situational awareness – efficient and effective.
The other aspect of her boxing, as 2008 Olympic bronze medallist Vijender Singh points out, is a great ability to let her emotions and game plan not be transmitted to the rival.
When she is not rushed, she has the uncanny knack of masking her face, forcing her opponent to look for other cues and by the time they find it, Lovlina scores methodically and opens up a cushion.
The semi-final against Turkey's Busenaz Surmeneli was always going to be a tough challenge to mount and while their prowess of the two challengers in the ring on Wednesday may have not been at the same level, both Lovlina and Busenaz had one thing in common – each had dreamt of winning an Olympic medal from childhood.
The 2019 World champion and world number one though got to pursue her dream a little longer as the 5-0 win helps her continue on to fight for the gold, Lovlina though will give her company on the podium as one of two bronze medallists.
She will be India's only boxing medallist at the Tokyo Olympics and just the third Indian boxer ever to medal at the big games. How's that for dreams coming true!
Lovlina has made sacrifices but has shown her sensitive, human side by choosing to be by her mother’s side when she was unwell and needed support. The monetary reward that came along with the Arjuna Award in August 2020 was of great assistance.
She secured her Olympic Asia & Oceania Olympic Qualifying Event in Amman, Jordan, in March 2020. Yet, while she had attained a primary target of qualifying, a bout of COVID-19 in October last year, needing hospitalisation, left her wondering if she would regain fitness and form to compete in the Olympic Games, postponed by a year because of the pandemic.
It was at this stage that the Sports Authority of India stepped in, opening up its Guwahati facility to one of the girls who had spent much time there in her formative years. After recovery, Lovlina attended a month-long camp in a familiar surroundings, battling the non-availability of sparring partners of her choice. Slowly, but determinedly, she found her rhythm.
The Asian Boxing Championships, held in Dubai in the end of May this year, saw her finish third in the 69kg class behind Kazakhstan’s Valentina Khalzove and Uzbekistan’s Navbhakor Khamidova. She lost the one bout she fought on comeback to competition, losing a split points verdict. Clearly, she was work in progress and the camp in Assisi, Italy, sharpened her.
The journey to an Olympic medal may not have found fruition without some strong personal decisions. For instance, Lovlina found a unique way to not let a deep friendship with fellow-Assam boxer Jamuna Boro come in the way of her dreams. Becoming aware that the friendship was becoming a distraction, they decided to maintain a healthy distance at the National camp so that they could focus on training.
Surely, it was not the easiest to do. That decision has obviously paid dividends and it is hard not to appreciate the maturity with which she acknowledged that a friendship was distracting her attention, made a tough decision and embraced it. It is a great example of mental strength and a statement of her growing sense of maturity and commitment to the sport that she so loved.
Then again, nearly a decade ago, it was kickboxing (Muay Thai) that was her first love. The transition was engineered in 2012 by Sports Authority of India coach Padam Chand Boro who watched in a trial in the Barpathar Girls High School. And then, as the cliché goes, there was no looking back. So it seemed when Lovlina boxed her way to bronze medals in two World Championships and two Asian Championships.
Until COVID-19 struck and brought up opposing thoughts. On Friday, she has erased the doubts anyone may have had about her being able to stand up to the rigours of the Olympic Games competition.
As someone who has set targets and achieved them, Lovlina Borgohain will dream bigger than an Olympic Games bronze. And she will continue to pursue those bigger dreams with the same relentlessness with which she ensured a medal for herself and her country, thirsting as it does for Olympic medals and has begun to assist athletes in working towards that.
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