Fencing, Swimming, Gymnastics and Squash are sports that our nation’s Fencing champion has dibbled her hands in. But, sabre fencing was the sport that awakened her passion. C.A Bhavani Devi has been fencing since 2003 when she was in school. And since then she has been on a winning streak: a Gold in Nationals, selection for the World Championships in Turkey in 2007, a Bronze at the Malaysia Commonwealth in 2009, a Silver and Bronze in Junior Common Wealth in 2012 in London, as well as winning nearly all national and state (Tamil Nadu) championships in the years since then.
I played the best I could. I competed without a coach because I couldn’t afford the expenses of appointing a coach. There I felt a lack of motivation and support. Then I understood that India is still behind in fencing, so, if I need to win I need to train with international athletes.”
Even though Bhavani has these major accomplishments to her name, India’s reaction to fencing as a sport has been disappointing. Despite working relentlessly to represent her country, Bhavani met with a major obstacle after the Asian Games in 2010 in China. With no fault of any sportsman, the government stopped funding for Fencing. And since then with all the grit and pride she could muster, Bhavani has tried to train with less than minimum guidance, and find the motivation to represent India further. She even tried looking for sponsors by herself. Inspite of this sorry state of affairs, Bhavani made it to the Olympics qualifying championships in 2012, but due to the lack of proper training, she lost her spot. Bhavani then started looking for a training space and a coach. For which Bhavani and her friends went to the army centre in Pune. She says, “I played the best I could. However, I felt a lack of motivation and support because I couldn’t afford the expenses of a support system in the form of a professional coach. Then I understood that India is still behind in fencing, so, if I need to win I need to train with international athletes.”
But I am sure I will be there in Tokyo [Olympics] in 2020!”
Bhavani’s skills, confidence and performance took a massive hit, as she couldn’t practice properly without the right supervision. The next few years she trained with a variety of coaches but would ultimately end up going for competitions without one. She says, “Many a times I felt that becoming an elite fencer is difficult without proper guidance and support. Competing alone is really tough. During the competitions and camps in those years I was without a coach and it had a really bad effect on my performance. It was hard to afford expenses of working closely with a coach because of financial constraints; thus, I was deprived of motivational support and guidance from a professional.
However, she is hugely indebted to her coach from the U.S. who helped her train for the Olympic qualification that happened in Rio in April 2016. They both were confident about her selection, but unfortunately she couldn’t do as well as they had hoped, and she lost her chance. But Bhavani has not lost heart, and with renewed vigour she says “But I am sure I will be there in Tokyo in 2020!”
Our government or federations have to start the sport in all the schools and make people aware about the sport first. Many don’t even realise that Fencing exists as a proper sport in India.”
Bhavani Devi has pushed and fought to keep her passion alive, even when she found no motivation, and has barely been celebrated for the name that she has earned for India. Despite all the morose times she has faced Bhavani is hopeful that with the right funding and encouragement the sport can be revived. With a fervent light in her eyes, the Junior Common Wealth winner says, “Our government or federations have to start the sport in all the schools and make people aware about the sport first. Many don’t even realise that Fencing exists as a proper sport in India.”
Sabre fencing is not just about keeping the right physique, we need to decide the right actions and do them at the right time in the right distance, and if we miss any one of these precise moments we lose a point.”
Her love for the game shines through as she excitedly explains, “Fencing has been around from the first Modern Olympics. It is a glamorous sport to watch. It’s not just about keeping the right physique, we need to decide the right actions and do them at the right time in the right distance, and if we miss any one of these precise moments we lose a point. I am so sure people would love to join and watch the sport if Fencing was spoken about and taught more often.”
I want to win many medals at the international level.”
Bhavani Devi possesses immense zest to achieve her dream of fencing at the Olympics, but for now she is pursuing her MBA. This extraordinary girl with big dreams says, “Success won’t come in a day. You have to be patient and continue to work really hard. More importantly you must crave and love your sport.”
For now Bhavani is headed to Italy for training with her coach thanks to support from the Tamil Nadu government and Go Sports. She excitedly says “I want to win many medals at the international level.” And so do we. We hope and pray that such a passionate sportswoman continues to prosper, and wins India many medals; driven by her renewed enthusiasm for Fencing.