Bhavani Devi - From Black Card to Realising Her Greatest Dream

When Hungary lost in the team event at the Fencing WC vs Korea, it opened the door for Bhavani to qualify for Tokyo.

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Bhavani Devi has become the first Indian to qualify for the Fencing Event at the Olympics. 
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On Sunday evening, a few days after India’s first archer couple confirmed their presence at the Tokyo Olympics, there was another first for the country – Bhavani Devi earned the distinction of being the first to qualify for the Fencing event at the Games.

When Hungary lost in the team event at the ongoing Fencing World Cup against Korea, it opened the door for Bhavani to secure a berth in Tokyo. She will compete in the sabre category and was training in Italy before the coronavirus pandemic stopped global sporting activity.

Bhavani, who has always been unfazed by the lack of popularity about the sport in India, has slayed the difficulties that came along on the way to her greatest dream.

“My greatest dream now is to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics because no fencer from India has ever represented the country in the Olympics. Just the sheer presence of a fencer will give a tremendous boost to the profile of the sport in the country,” she had told The Quint in 2018.

Bhavani Devi is India’s first entrant in the Fencing event at the Olympics. 
Bhavani Devi is India’s first entrant in the Fencing event at the Olympics. 
Image: Olympic Channel 

Where Did it All Begin?

For Bhavani, who was born in Chennai, the year 2003 is of prime importance as she chose Fencing in school when the slots for gymnastics and squash had been filled. “I will do fencing,” she said on that day, according to a report in Scroll.

Soon enough, with support from her parents, she took the leap of faith and moved base to the SAI (Sports Authority of India) Centre in Thalassery in Kerala – and thankfully for Indian sport, never looked back!

It wasn’t easy however as she found it difficult in terms of funding in the early stages. Bhavani though eventually able to bolster her training programme when she got support from the Tamil Nadu Government and the GoSports foundation, a non-profit organisation.

“It was not easy to manage my flight bookings and arrange hotels on a tight budget funded with loans taken by my family. And then there was the small matter of concentrating on my performance against some of the top fencers of the world. But in the long run, this toughened me as a professional.”

The Breakthrough

With the situation improving slowly but steadily, Bhavani was able to bring on board the reputed Italian coach Nicolla Zanotti and the career path started would turn a corner soon.

Although, at her first international event in Turkey (2007), she was shown the black card – the highest punishment in Fencing – before things started looking up.

Bhavani was the first Indian to bag a Silver Medal at the 2014 Asian Championship U23 in the Fencing category.

However, the Olympic dream in Rio did not happen as she failed to qualify, despite going across the world to train in various cities for the best part of two years after 2014.

"I am very disappointed to miss out being part of the Indian team at Rio. In the last two years, I pushed myself alone without proper support and travelled a lot without a proper plan. So, for 2020 I will try not to make the same mistakes and make the right plan to achieve my dream. I am planning to go to Italy to train for a few months," she told NewsToday back in 2016.

Putting aside the disappointment of Rio and the slip-ups on the way so far, Bhavani turned her attention to Iceland in 2017 and won India’s first Gold medal in Fencing at the Women's World Cup satellite tournament in 2017 before adding another Gold Medal at the senior Commonwealth Fencing Championship in Canberra in the sabre event in 2018.

Mission Tokyo

Bhavani won her Olympic berth in Hungary, even as the country continues to battle another wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Bhavani and her coach Nicolla travelled by road for close to 12 hours to participate at the World Cup.

"We were in the playing hall... I was telling myself if this opportunity slips away, I still have one last qualification event [continental qualifiers in Seoul]. The next thing I knew, I was weeping and my coach was hugging me tight. South Korea had won. I had been waiting for this moment all my life. Through all of last year, especially the lockdown, I carried it within me, holding on to this hope. Finally, I feel free," Bhavani was quoted as saying by ESPN.

For Bhavani, the road up until now has not been easy by any stretch of imagination and the months ahead aren’t likely to get easier either.

But as always, once she is recharged; she’ll mask up in an attempt to bring more laurels for the country.

Basic Guide to Fencing

A fencing bout features a faceoff between two contestants looking to score points by making contacts on the designated target area of the rivals using a weapon resembling a sword.

In the Olympics or a standard international tournament, a bout lasts for nine minutes or until a contestant scores 15 points.

Competitive fencing is classified into three different events based on the type of weapons and scoring.

In foil, a light sword is used which has a flexible rectangular blade. Points are scored only when the tip of the weapon touches the opponent’s torso including back, neck and the groin. Epee involves a heavier sword where points are awarded when the tip of the weapon touches the opponent’s target area which consists of his or her entire body including his hands and legs. In sabre, where a lighter weapon is used, both the blade and the tip of the weapon can be used to score points in a target area extending from the hips to the head.

The tips and blades of the weapons are electrically wired and whenever there is a valid contact on the target area, a buzzer goes off indicating a point.

(With various inputs)

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