Over the past 10 months, Lovlina Borgohain has been the center of attention at every felicitation event she’s been invited to. An Olympic medal – Borgohain won the bronze medal in the women’s 69kg boxing in Tokyo – does that for you.
It must have been a little unusual for the 24-year-old from Assam to share the stage with Nikhat Zareen, Manisha Moun and Parveen Hooda at an event in New Delhi on Tuesday to honour India’s contingent that took part at the World Championships in Turkey
The world of sport is relentless. Media too has moved on and found fresh heroes. Right now, it’s Nikhat, Manisha and Parveen who are on the top of the boxing mountain as they should be, after having medalled at the worlds. As officials and ministers lauded the trio and reporters swarmed them with questions, Borgohain quietly looked to make her way out of the throng, her post-Olympic honeymoon well and truly over.
She’s asked a couple of questions and they are invariably about her second-round exit at the World Championships. She’s clearly uncomfortable with it. “I’ve lost in the past as well. But in the past when I lost, no one even noticed. Now when I lose, I feel there are so many eyes on me. It’s suddenly a big thing. I’m conscious of it too,” she says.
“When you are carrying a reputation, you start thinking about it before your bout. There is some pressure when you go to the ring.”
In the first round of the Worlds, she faced probably her most dangerous opponent of the tournament – two-time world champion Chen Nien-chin of Taiwan – and defeated her by a unanimous decision. “At that time all of us thought she would win another gold,” says coach Sandhya Gurung. But then at the very next hurdle, Borgohain lost – on the receiving end of a split decision verdict to an unheralded Cindy Ngamba, who would then lose her next bout.
“She was telling me that her body just wasn’t working. She just couldn’t will it to do what she wanted,” says Gurung.
There wasn’t any deep underlying problem. Just a lack of match practice reckons chief coach Bhargav Bhatt. “She didn’t have that tempo of punching in her bout. I felt her body wasn’t coordinating with her brain. When a boxer says they had a bad day that’s usually what they mean. That’s something that happens in boxing. But if you have a lot of match practice, those days are fewer,” says Bhatt.
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The World Championships was Borgohain’s first competition since the Olympics. It didn’t need to be that way though. “After the Olympics, there are so many expectations of you. Everyone wants you to come for one function or the other,” Borgohain says.
There were other commitments as well. She’d put them off for years while chasing her Olympic dreams. “Her mom is also not very well so she had to look after that as well. While the camp started in November, Lovlina joined one month later,” says Gurung. Because of that, she couldn’t go to Strandja (where other members of the Indian team had competed in April). She didn’t have that one tune-up tournament,” says Gurung.
Borgohain knows this. But she also knows the ultimate weight of defeat falls on her. “You learn more from a defeat than a victory. I think I was able to learn a lot from this,” she says.
That learning began right after her loss, says coach Bhatt. “After any boxer of ours loses, I have a one-on-one conversation with them. We discuss how the bout went and where she thinks she can improve. Lovlina and I both agreed that when she returned to the camp she was focussing more on her conditioning and physical training than her boxing. She’s always been strong, but she was feeling she was getting far better results through her fitness than her boxing. Now she knows that isn’t true. She knows she must do more than what she’s doing right now. Fitness is a part of what she needs to be doing It’s not the only part of it. She’s a lot more focussed on her boxing now,” says Bhatt.
After the initial shock of her defeat wore off, Bhatt says Borgohain went right back to the drawing board. “Even after the loss, she didn’t just sit around. We had arranged sparring sessions with other boxers from other teams. Lovlina took part in every training session. That was a good sign,” he says.
Bhatt says that while the failure to return with a medal might be stinging, it could be the motivation Borgohain needs as she takes on a new Olympic cycle. “She had a choti haar (small loss) at the World Championships. But the focus will be to do well at the Olympic Games in two years. Those are the important competitions, and I am sure she can do well there,” he says.
Borgohain, too, admits the loss at the World Championships was what she needed to close the chapter on her Tokyo performance. “After the Olympics, there’s always this pressure on living up to the expectations of people. That bothered me as well. But now it’s gone. That first competition is out of the way. Now I just have to train,” she says.