Olympic bronze medalist boxer Lovlina Borgohain (left) with coach Sandhya Gurung | File image

GANGTOK: Lovlina Borgohain ensured a medal for India when she qualified for the semifinal in the Women’s welterweight division on July 30. The girl from Assam defeated Chen Nien-chin from Chinese Taipei in the quarterfinal bout at Tokyo Olympics. She next faces Busenaz Surmeneli from Turkey in the semi-finals on August 4. A lot of adulation has poured in for the rare tall pugilist from across the country. Closer home here in Gangtok, Sikkim, her coach, Sandhya Gurung was all praise for the success of Lovlina on how she has grown from a reluctant sparrer to now a Lion in the ring.

“She was a tall, shy girl, but the height advantage got her the attention from Assam in sub-junior camp. She was a bit reluctant in sparring, but we pushed her to fight that fear. Her target was always on the Olympics, ever since she went for the sub-junior world championship in 2013. She was playing in 75 kg category initially, later she came down to 69 kg eyeing for the Olympics,” Gurung told EastMojo.

Sandhya Gurung, a former boxer from Sikkim, fought paralysis to become a national-level boxer and now a coach to arguably one of the best finds in Indian boxing history. Sandhya Gurung hails from Burtuk in Gangtok.

She was always inclined in sports but never thought it would be boxing. “I was introduced to the game after former Olympian Jas Lal Pradhan promoted boxing in Sikkim. Before that, boxing was not systematic. I had paralysis a long time ago. Hence, it was a challenge. In 1999, women boxing got the push, I competed in the 68 kg category out of interest from 2000. My last game was in 2008, where I secured gold medal finish,” she said.

From 2008 onwards, she was given a government job by Sikkim’s Sports department, where the option was to either be a boxing official or a coach. “Official was seasonal, but the coach would mean being in the game regularly. The sports department pushed me for a coach’s diploma, which I carried on, but before the diploma got completed, I was selected as a coach for the national camp. Even our current Chief Minister Prem Singh Golay, when he was sports minister, pushed me to be a coach,” said Gurung. From 2010 onwards, Gurung has been a coach.

Recalling Lovlina as a tall, shy girl who was introduced in the sub-junior camp in 2012, Gurung said she and Lovlina struck a bond which became a regular mentorship in 2016 at the National Camp in Delhi. “When she became a senior around November 2016, she came to me with a request for training. I couldn’t say no. My message to mentor her was no excuse for anything in training, take me as a friend or parent, and she has been sincere in her game and disciplined in her training. There is never a no from her in training,” added Gurung.

“But in major tournaments, she used to get cold feet, but I used to urge her how she is a Lion, king of the jungle. Even though we are not together today, I have been helping her virtually through video calls and elaborate discussions in the Olympics currently. We try to analyse what the opposition has in his strengths and weaknesses currently”, shares Gurung.

Even though they are miles apart, the coach and the pugilist connect regularly. “Our cooperation was always good, and that is why we reaped success. When she qualified for Olympics, we were happy. I told her then, this is not the destination, we aim to reach the finals in Olympics. In the end, she tried to get me on board to go along with her to Tokyo. But I urged her to focus on the game. In the past, we may have struggled with communication. But now, we have technology at our disposal. We can call each other and discuss the strategies and even train. But now we have a video call, where she calls me often. Since reaching (Tokyo), she has been constantly in touch”, shares the coach.

Taking the latest bout into contention, Gurung said, “Her latest bout was the tough one, quarterfinals are important for medal qualification. Even though we could not connect after her win last night, she was very emotional. Yesterday, was different happiness I felt too when I saw her succeed to secure a medal in the Olympics.”

On a personal note, Gurung terms Lovlina as ‘a very homely girl who worries about her home and family along with her boxing game’. Elsewhere, Sandhya manages her life between family in Sikkim and National camp in Delhi. “I train many in Sikkim also when I come here intending to bring more from Sikkim also to the boxing ring, especially women,” Gurung added.

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