Lovlina Borgohain overcame an opponent who's had her number in the past(Getty Images)
Lovlina Borgohain overcame an opponent who's had her number in the past(Getty Images)

Tokyo 2020: How shy, quiet Lovlina Borgohain prepared for an adversary she knew too well | EXCLUSIVE

  • To reach a point where the Assamese boxer can play without fear, Lovlina had a helping hand. In an exclusive telephonic conversation, Indian Elite Boxing Team Women Coach Sandhya Gurung, who has played a crucial role in Lovlina's career, gave a few insights into her journey.
By Karan Prashant Saxena, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 30, 2021 04:57 PM IST

At the start of the virtual press conference with Lovlina Borgohain, after she won her quarterfinal bout at the Tokyo Olympics 2020, it was pointed out that the Indian boxer is always a little hesitant when it comes to speaking to the media. It hardly comes as a surprise, though, knowing her shy nature. But despite being a quiet person, Lovlina made a huge mark in Indian boxing history on Sunday as she confirmed a medal for India at the Olympics.

The Indian pugilist reigned victorious in the Women's 69kg against Chinese Taipei's Chen Nien-Chin in the quarterfinal to confirm the medal - an opponent Lovlina had lost to three times in the past.

She first met Chen at the 2018 World Championships semi-finals, where she lost 4-0. Their next meeting in 2019 at the Strandja Memorial boxing tournament in Sofia ended in a similar result, this time by a unanimous decision. The 2018 Welterweight champion registered her third win over Lovlina in the quarter-finals of the Asian Championships later in the same year.

Also Read | Lovlina Borgohain punches her way to an Olympic medal; joins list of elite Indian boxers

"I had been planning how to beat her. I was not competing against anyone, but myself. I enjoyed the bout, it was a fun fight, I played with freedom without any fear," Lovlina tells media at the press call.

But to reach a point where the Assamese boxer can play without fear, Lovlina had a helping hand. In an exclusive telephonic conversation with Hindustan Times, Indian Elite Boxing Team Women Coach Sandhya Gurung, who has played a crucial role in Lovlina's career, gave a few insights into her journey.

Gurung, who has trained Lovlina for several years now, was at the women's boxing camp in Italy where the Olympics contingent had trained before traveling to Tokyo. When asked if she believed at that point that Lovlina could win a medal, Gurung said: "Yes. I had a feeling that she could win a medal."

Also Read | Tokyo Olympics 2020, Full Coverage

The former boxer, now a coach under the Sports & Youth Affairs Department, went on to detail the discussion she had with Lovlina on the possibilities of facing Chen before she flew to Tokyo.

"When I saw the qualifying list, I had told her that she might have to face the Chinese Taipei boxer in the quarterfinals. She had lost to her three times. So it was always going to be a tough challenge for her," she said. "But I told her to play her game, concentrate on what she can do best rather than worrying about the opponent. If she plays her best, she can definitely beat her.

"I was pretty confident that she can come back with a medal. We even had a chat just before she left for the Olympics and I again told her the same thing," Gurung further said.

Gurung further went on to explain that Lovlina's biggest challenge since she started boxing was overcoming her fears.

"She (Lovlina) came to us in 2012. She was a kid at the time. She was a very, shy, fragile girl, not at all like she is now," Gurung said. "By 2016, I started training with her. At that time as well, she did not play well. There was a fear inside her."

In 2017, the welterweight division was included as a category for the 2020 Olympics, which opened up doors for Lovlina to start preparing for the road to Tokyo.

"I told her 'we have four years and in these four years, we will train to keep Olympics as our target," Gurung said. "I also told her 'you have to focus 100 percent on training. After training, you can talk about anything - your friends, your mother, your family - but during training, you have to focus only on that'. She agreed to it. Then we started training with her, we maintained her fitness. She started doing what we told her to do," Gurung further recalled.

As the hard work began, the results started coming in. Gurung said that by the 2017 Asian Championships, she noticed a decrease in fear in Lovlina.

"She played well at the Asian Championships. At that time, I noticed that 40 percent of her fear was gone. Then I told her that 'there is no reason to fear. Why to fear, you can play even better'. I kept telling her that we have the journey to the Olympics, and we do not have to stray from that target. We do not have to lose our focus," Gurung said.

At the start of 2021, there was another big challenge in front of Lovlina. She tested positive for Covid-19 in October 2020, leading to a long recovery period to get back to her best levels of fitness. Replying to an exclusive question asked by Hindustan Times from Tokyo, Indian women boxers’ High-Performance Director Raffaele Bergamasco gave an insight into her long road to recovery.

"Lovlina, like the others, did a conditioned training routine and worked on her recovery period. We made different plans for her and she worked more on her physical strength and this also allowed her to increase her confidence," Bergamasco said.

A calmer, more relaxed Lovlina showcased her mental strength defeating an adversary on Friday she knows too well. She admitted she has not even focused on her meditation routines in the last few months, as she believed she needed to not be dependent on anything to keep herself calm.

"Meditation helped me a lot. I have been doing this since 2017. It helped me during fights. But in the past four months, I have not really focused on it. Because I realised that with so much going on, I cannot be depended on any particular thing to keep me calm. I have to keep faith in myself no matter what happens, even if my hands break, I have to play, and I have to win," Lovlina said at the media call.

The first round of the fight was a close 3-2 split decision in Lovlina's favour. It meant that she only had a slight advantage. Raffaele revealed how the strategy was devised for the rest of the bout after a close first round.

"I advised her not to work at short distances, so as not to give her opponent an advantage, but to box from long distance and focus on counter-attacks. The strategy worked very well and she was good at executing it," he said.

Now, the Indian boxer will face off against the reigning women's welterweight world champion Busenaz Surmeneli, there are hopes that she can overcome this challenge, and go on to win the gold.

"The job is still not done, there is more to do," Gurung signed off.

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