Asian Games: Lovlina loses final but wins Olympics berth and validates her weight switch

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Lovlina Borgohain did not have a comfortable draw in the women’s 75kg boxing category, losing in the final to China’s Li Qian, a two-time Olympic medalist and former world champion.

However, Lovlina, the only Indian finalist in women’s boxing here, ticked a few individual boxes: she won the first major silver medal of her career and also sealed her berth at the Paris Olympics. And he confirmed his comfort level in the 75kg category, where he switched last year.

When the two boxers met in the semi-finals of the World Championships in New Delhi this year, Lovlina won but this time the result was firmly in favor of the Chinese boxer. Lovlina, in red, took the first blow of the bout but was second-best for the rest of the contest. Kian was the better boxer on the day, regularly punching Lovlina in the jaw, while the Indian tried to dance around the ring and use his reach to his advantage. He used his reach, but he often ended up punching the air.

3-2 lead to Qian in the first round, supported by a ecstatic crowd. Second, 5-0. Lovlina adopted a low guard and looked to fight on the counter, but she showed little aggression or intent to score. The two engaged in multiple clinches, but the Chinese boxer had it pretty easy. Lovlina had to produce something extraordinary to beat Qian in the third round. It didn’t happen.

Lovlina flashed a wide smile as the stadium announcer announced that Kian had won the bout by unanimous decision. Was he impressed by the results? Was it fun? Or relief that he booked a ticket to Paris?

Coming into these Games, Lovlina knew she had to reach the final to win an Olympic quota – her weight category is one of two that awards a quota of finalists, the others do so at the semi-final stage. Granted, he had a favorite draw and started his Asian Games campaign in the quarterfinals, but it could also play tricks on his mind, making him complacent. Also, a slip-up in the preliminary round will cause serious criticism.

And that’s something she couldn’t afford — especially not after going off the radar after her bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

Two years ago, Lovleena was the only Indian woman boxer to win a medal at the Olympics. This was her crowning glory and coincided with the medal won by Mary Kom, the godmother of Indian boxing, in 2012.

But nearly a year after that Olympic medal, she stepped back from the podium – and into that gap stepped Nikhat Zarin, who herself had emerged from Mary Kom’s shadow. Nikhat won competition after competition and his World Championship win in 2022 catapulted him into the spotlight. He became the face of Indian boxing, started trending on Twitter and even collaborated with his favorite actor Salman Khan.

Perhaps the post-final smile was the knowledge that he found himself in the 75kg category.

Lovlina’s absence is due to her decision to change from 69kg – where she won both her world and Olympic bronze medals – to 75kg, as 69kg has been dropped from the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Shifting to the 66kg category (which is part of the 2024 Olympics) was not an option as it would then reduce his bone strength and, in turn, make him more prone to injury. So 75kg was the best bet.

The qualities that made him so successful at 69kg – his height, reach and strength – were nullified in the 75kg category. Her opponents were of the same height, strength and equal reach if not taller: it was a level playing field now and Lovlina had to catch up.

The results did not come first. He did not win a medal at the 2022 World Championships or the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. The Asian Championship gold was the only saving grace, but that didn’t count for much. He was no longer the face of Indian boxing.

So he delivered with his head down when it mattered most: at the World Championships in Delhi. It was the first time he won more than a bronze, his first major medal since the Olympics.

He now has two major medals from Tokyo. A silver is something he has never won at a major event. And she will savor it: She became the first female boxer to win a medal at the Asian Games after Mary Kom won gold in 2014.

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