New Delhi, October 28: Female Indian boxer Jamuna Boro couldn't secure the Tokyo Olympic berth due to an injury but the Assam pugilist is determined to put up a better show for the next Olympic cycle.
The 24-year-old bantamweight boxer from Sonitpur (Assam) wishes to replicate the success of her close friend Lovlina Borgohain and clinch an Olympic medal in Paris 2024.
Jamuna - who won a bronze medal at the 2019 AIBA Women's World Boxing Championships held in Ulan-Ude, Russia - now also looks to change her weight category. That puts extra pressure on her to do well in the upcoming competitions, for her performance will eventually help her to move to a different weight category.
Jamuna recently won a bronze medal in her weight category at the National Boxing Championships and wants to do well in the upcoming competitions.
Like any girl from India, Jamuna's journey hasn't been a cakewalk. From losing her father at an early age and being brought up by a single parent, to facing the social stigma, to facing the financial troubles, she has seen it all and those hardships have only made her more determined and mentally strong.
The Assam girl also believes that icons like Mary Kom and now Lovlina - who have not just broken the stereotypes but also won Olympic medals - are encouraging more young girls to take up an individual sport like boxing and pursue a career in it. Mary Kom won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics while Lovlina clinched a bronze in Tokyo 2020.
Here are the excerpts from her conversation with Mykhel:
MyKhel: You lost your father at an early age and your mother brought you and your siblings up selling vegetables. How did the hardships at an early age make you strong? Any incident from your formative years that changed your life forever?
Jamuna Boro: After that incident, my mother felt really lonely, but with all her hard work she did everything possible for the family. She was taking care of all my needs, ensuring I got my education, she sent me wherever I wanted to go and never stopped me. Surely, we had very limited resources but she always supported me to fulfil my dreams. Looking at her struggling so much, I was determined to do something.
My idol is my mother and Mary Kom. Only after I was introduced to boxing, I knew this would help me to achieve my goal, so I started to focus on the sport. In the year 2008, I had played nationals against a player who was from the Assam Police, and she defeated me at least 4 to 5 times which really disappointed me. After losing to her at the nationals, no matter wherever I went it kept bothering me.
Then in the Guwahati Open India International Tournament, I was again set against her but this time I successfully defeated her with a score of 5-0. I was really happy at that moment, that changed my game and changed me personally also. I consider this as the biggest turning point, an incident that changed my life.
MK: What were the challenges you faced when you picked up boxing as a profession? How did you counter the negativities especially when people used to discourage you?
Jamuna Boro: Everyone has challenges, it is not like I am the only one who is struggling with them. I feel some people can deal with it, and there are some who cannot. As an athlete we need many things for our training, there were times when I needed money, but I couldn't ask for it from my mother, because I felt bad thinking how even, she will be able to arrange it. But luckily, I got support from SAI. When I joined them, they took care of everything and it was a big help.
If someone ever said to me that I cannot do this, then that would strike me as to why can't I do it. I used to imagine Mary Kom, with all those challenges she was able to do, then why can't I? I used to imagine it that way.
I even used to think about my mother, she alone took care of the three siblings and if she can do then why can't I. There were many little things that I had to struggle with, I missed my father, I needed my father with us but that was not possible and the same for my mother, even though she needed the support but we had to overcome those and move on.
MK: As you have been appointed by the Assam Govt excise inspector for bringing glory to the state, how was the reaction in your family after the announcement? You have worked for Assam Rifles in the past. How did it help you become a better athlete?
Jamuna Boro: I was earlier with Assam Rifles and they helped me a lot. It was never like I was only doing the duty the whole time or I wasn't allowed to train or compete, instead, they supported me.
When I joined Assam Rifles, it was only then I was able to focus more on my training because my constant worry in terms of money, like paying my fees or the specific requirements that a sportsperson needs, were all resolved, so I was less stressed and I was able to help my family also through this job. So, my experience over there was really good. I am thankful to Assam Rifle for I got to join them when I really needed it.
However, I later quit my position in Assam Rifle because I didn't want to stay away from my family. But, when I started training for tournaments, I needed a job and the Assam government helped me this time again.
My mother was a bit tense when I left Assam Rifle because just like me, my family has huge respect for the defence and they always encouraged me with everything I did but considering my future plans I had to leave it behind. Later, when I told my mother that I have been appointed as the excise inspector, she was really surprised and couldn't believe it until I showed them the documents. It was only after I got my appointment letter and I started working she trusted me and is now very happy, otherwise she was worried if I can even do the job. My mother is now very happy and that makes me happy.
MK: Your old friend Lovlina Borgohain has created history in Tokyo with her bronze medal. Did you get to talk to her? What did you two talk about?
Jamuna Boro: I spoke to her about many things and I am really happy for her. We used to stay together and practice together. She went to the Olympics and won a medal for the country. I hope in the future she keeps succeeding and I really hope to join her too. Even Lovlina encourages me to focus more on the sport so that we can one day play at the Olympics together.
MK: Do you think, Lovlina's Olympic medal will encourage young girls in Assam and in India to pick up boxing?
Jamuna Boro: Absolutely 100%. She is the first female athlete and the second boxer from Assam to represent the state in the Olympics. I am her friend, I get motivated and it gives me strength that even I can do it, and I should not back out. I feel, looking at Lovlina, the new generation feels more energised.
The new generation is focused on the game and looking at her they are getting the courage to join the sport which is a great thing for the Assam state.
MK: You couldn't qualify for Tokyo Olympics but the buzz around the Olympics this year was great. How were you feeling watching your friends and teammates participating at the biggest stage? That must have motivated you to give your everything to earn that Olympic qualification berth next time.
Jamuna Boro: I was giving my 100% to get qualified for the Olympics and I even thought that I will be able to make it. But I had to go through my shoulder surgery and with that everything stopped. No doubt I felt sad seeing other boxers giving their trials, getting selected and travelling for the match, but that motivated me more and made me more determined that I must be completely prepared for the next time.
It was really great to see all the Indian players going to participate in the Olympics and doing so well. I hope next time I can also join them and compete along with them. Now I am focusing on preparing myself to make sure I get qualified for the Paris Olympics.
MK: What has been the role of your sponsors PUMA in your success? What improvements did you make after associating with the brand?
Jamuna Boro: Every sportsperson has a brand preference and for me, it will be Puma. Since the time I have been in touch with PUMA, I do not have to worry about the additional concerns related to sports and that gives me great relief as all the things required are taken care of by our sponsor.
I am able to focus more and my requirements of any equipment for the purpose of training is made available by them. I am happy to see that the brand is supporting the up and running athletes of India and encouraging them to achieve their dreams.
MK: What are your plans for the future?
Jamuna Boro: A sportsperson needs to improve in many small things. Currently, I am boxing in the 54kg weight category but I will have to decide when I can change my weight category. I will either get into the weight category of 51 or 57 but that will happen depending on how things are going.
MK: We sent our biggest ever boxing contingent to Tokyo but only managed to win just one medal. What according to you went wrong with our boxers?
Jamuna Boro: I do not think anything went wrong. Players dream to be at the Olympics and win medals for the country and for that they put in a lot of effort. It is only after years of dedication and hard work an athlete can make it to the Olympics and no one wants to miss the chance. It is not easy to compete on such a great platform with all the pressure and expectations surrounding your one performance, instead, we should cheer for those who were strong enough to fight for it. I hope with our support more athletes will make it to the Olympics and we'll get more champions from India.
MK: India's female boxers are making a mark on the global stage. A whole bunch of talented boxers are now giving stiff challenges to the best in the world. What according to you is the reason behind the rise of India's female boxers?
Jamuna Boro: With time, the perception of people has changed and with that, we have only seen an upward trend in the number of female athletes. They are realising that women can equally challenge and excel in any kind of sport, even in a sport like boxing. and can make it big.
Also, thanks to players like my idol Mary Kom who broke all the stereotypes and made her own mark that today everyone knows her, respects her and aspires to be like her. When stars like them are born, more young players are inspired and it gives them hope.
People are now encouraging and supporting their young girls who want to get into individual sports. The role of the government and the society also matters a lot here and I think with time the increasing support that athletes are getting are a few reasons that we could see many young female boxers rising.