Tokyo 2020: Lovlina Borgohain's journey from Baramukhia to Tokyo
Borgohain became only the third boxer from India to win an Olympic medal when she was assured of at least a bronze after winning her quarterfinal match against Chinese Taipei’s Chen Nien-Chin in Tokyo and moving into the semis.
Just a few months after Lovlina Borgohain had first stepped out of her village Baramukhia, near Assam’s border with Nagaland, she found herself in trouble. It was 2012, and the then 14-year-old boxer was at her first tournament, the sub-junior nationals in Kolkata. She needed a red-corner kit, but did not have one. She asked another girl, who had lost her bout, if she could borrow her kit.
“She agreed but with a condition that I give her my mobile phone,” Borgohain said in an earlier interview to HT. That phone was her lifeline. It had been only two months since Borgohain had left home to join the boxing programme at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Guwahati, more than 300km away, and it was the only way to stay in touch with her family. Borgohain took the hard decision and gave the phone. But she did not get the promised kit.
“You know some incidents in life leave a mark. It still rankles whenever I think of it,” she said.
Perhaps it will not rankle her anymore. Borgohain became only the third boxer from India to win an Olympic medal—after Vijender Singh’s 2008 Beijing bronze and her idol Mary Kom’s 2012 London bronze—when she was assured of at least a bronze after winning her quarterfinal match against Chinese Taipei’s Chen Nien-Chin in Tokyo and moving into the semis.
Back home, Lovlina’s parents—her father owns a small tea plantation—chose not to watch the quarterfinal bout live.
“We never watch Lovlina’s matches live actually,” said her father Tiken Borgohain over the phone. “We do watch the highlights later on but it’s a bit difficult to watch the bouts live because in that moment when she is in the ring, it gets too exciting for us.”
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But they got the news immediately as neighbours poured into the house to congratulate them and their phones began ringing.
“Our district (Golaghat) is still in the Covid red zone but the excitement among all our friends, relatives and neighbours is so much that quite a few people have been visiting to congratulate us,” Tiken said.
Borgohain last met her parents in February in Kolkata, when her mother underwent a kidney transplant there.
Borgohain, Tiken said, was fascinated with combat sports from a very early age, inspired by her twin elder sisters Lima and Licha, older to her by four years, who were both into Muay Thai.
When she was 11, Borgohain too started training in Muay Thai and Thang-ta, a Manipuri martial art. But in 2012, when she was 14, she was spotted during a scouting run by Padam Boro, the coach who runs the boxing programme at SAI’s Guwahati centre. Boro was short of boxers for the upcoming sub-junior nationals in Kolkata.
“I noticed that she had a good height and build for a boxer,” Boro said over the phone. “So I gave her a few tests to check her boxing skills. I realised that she could be a very good boxer so I didn’t have to think too much to select her.”
It was a break for Borgohain, but she had to leave home and go very far away. The decision was made easy by her mother Mamoni Borgohain, who told her that she must take the opportunity.
“We are three sisters and like in Indian villages there was this constant this talk that there is no son,” Borgohain said. “Our father had to stay away from home for months due to work. My mother used to say that we have to do something to change our situation.”
Borgohain went to her first tournament, the sub junior nationals in Kolkata with bare minimum training.
“In Thai boxing you have 1-2 punches (a combination of two punches),” Borgohain said. “I was told by the coach, just don’t use the kick, and throw as many punches as possible. I did just that.”
It got her a gold, but Borgohain has come a long way from those rookie days.
“At this moment, Lovlina is now technically very sound, in all aspects of her game,” Boro said. “She is at a stage now where, whatever tournament she plays in, she can win a medal and can beat any opponent she faces.”
The technical aspect of Borgohain’s boxing was on full display in the quarterfinal fight against Chen Nien-Chin, a boxer who has beaten Borgohain in all three of their meetings before this one.
Chen Nien-Chin, the 2018 world champion, is stocky and powerful and likes to fight by moving close to her opponent and unleashing a barrage of punches. Borgohain, who is taller and leaner, simply did not allow her to do that. With a stiff jab and a deft footwork, Borgohain was in control of the distance for the entire fight. As Chen Nien-Chin got more and more frustrated, her punches became more reckless and Borgohain capitalized with a series of hooks and straights that made solid connections.
“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,” Borgohain said.
“If she fights like she did today, I am certain that she will bring home the Olympic gold,” Boro said.