Velvet glove that forged Lovlina Borgohain’s iron fist

Coach, friend, didi, and now Dronacharya awardee.

Boxing coach Sandhya Gurung’s phone had been constantly buzzing with congratulatory messages ever since the official list of Dronacharya awardees was released but she didn’t reply. Sandhya, Tokyo Olympics silver medallist Lovlina Boroghain’s coach, wanted to wait until she received the award in November last year at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

“I didn’t want to jinx it. Whenever someone congratulated me I used to tell them, ‘ not yet’. I have waited for this recognition for a long time and honestly, I felt a little relieved only after the dress rehearsal. Tab laga ki award pakka milega (I realised then that I would get the award for sure),” Gurung told The Indian Express.

The Sikkimese coach has been applying for national sports awards since 2017 but had faced disappointment so far. “This time I did not want to apply at all. I gave up all hope,” she says. But her prodigious trainee Lovlina Borgohain pushed Sandhya to complete the formalities while promising her to put up a good show at the Tokyo Olympics.

Boxing, India, Lovlina India had its biggest ever boxing team — five men and four women — competing at the Games in July-August, of whom only Lovlina Borgohain could finish on the podium with a bronze medal (File)

“Before the Olympics, only Lovlina told me that she would definitely win a medal and that we both would go to the Rashtrapati Bhawan together for the awards ceremony. I got a little late for the interview because I was helping Lovlina with her saree,” says Sandhya with a bright smile. Lovlina was among the Khel Ratna awardees this year.

Coach Sandhya is very popular among her wards due to her amicable persona. She is known to go the extra mile to make her trainees feel at home at the national camp. “Children often come from far-off places and they start missing home. I talk to them and tell them they can share anything with me,” says Sandhya.

Lovlina agrees. “She’s like a mother, elder sister, friend and also my coach,” Lovlina tells this paper. The 23-year-old first met coach Sandhya in 2012 when she was about fourteen and trained under her for just a few months. But four years later, Lovlina reunited with Sandhya after joining the camp as a senior.

“When I arrived, I was a very shy and reserved person. I wouldn’t talk to anyone but Sandhya ma’am made me feel comfortable,” says Lovlina. Not only did Sandhya help Lovlina come out of her shell and interact with other boxers but helped instil self-belief in the youngster.

“She helped me believe in myself. I was very timid and wasn’t confident about myself. She helped me overcome that and become the boxer that I am today. I am happier about her award than mine. She thoroughly deserves it,” says Lovlina. Sandhya has her own jovial style of giving pep talks. In Lovlina’s case, one simple question brought about a lot of difference.

“Lovlina told me that she feels a little scared to enter the ring at times. I asked her ‘why? Do they use gloves made of iron?’,” recalls Gurung. It’s not just the pep talks and friendly advice that makes her popular among the campers but also her cooking.

During Diwali break, some campers decided to stay back so Sandhya took special permission to use the kitchen at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in Delhi to prepare a nice meal.

“I made them Sel roti (rice flour-based bread popular in Sikkim and Nepal) and Gorkha chutney (a spicy sauce) and
other delicacies. They loved it,” says Sandhya.

Sandhya’s career as a boxer was brief since she started late. Her husband Manoj Kumar Limboo, a retired Army boxer, nudged her to try her hands at boxing in 2000. Sandhya was a homemaker and mother to a 13-year-old then. Sandhya would have started earlier if not for a road accident in her teens that left her paralysed for three years.

“When I wanted to start boxing there were a lot of people who didn’t believe in me. But I worked hard and even won medals on the international circuit. But I take more pride in Lovlina’s achievement,” she says.

Lovina’s Olympic triumph has only made her hungrier for more. “Medal and awards are like food. You always want more,” she jokes. The seasoned coach feels there are a lot of “young Lovlinas” in India waiting for the right guidance. “I want to produce more champions,” says Sandhya who is itching to get back to camp and resume training.

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