Bhavani Devi created history on March 15th, 2021 by becoming the first Indian fencer to qualify for the Olympic Games, by securing a quota at the Tokyo Olympics.
Currently ranked 42nd in the world, she qualified for one of the two available spots in the Asia/Oceanic Zone after Hungary lost to South Korea in the quarter-finals of the Sabre Fencing World Cup. The country was thrilled as Devi qualified, after her failure to secure a spot at the Rio Olympics.
Devi specialises in the Sabre category in fencing, where the upper body becomes a target for strikes, and a typical competition lasts only about 10 minutes.
Devi’s road to the Tokyo Olympics has been 17 years long
Bhavani Devi was introduced to fencing at a very young age. She learned about fencing at school, where she became a part of the school team. She remembers she used to practice with all sorts of things.
“We used all sorts of things to practice. We would go to the stadium at 5.30 am everyday and from there to school. In the evening, from school back to the stadium and then home. This was the routine for years.” Bhavani Devi told the Hindu.
The 40 girls team that was selected from her school dwindled down to the one sole Devi. The fairly unknown sport in India had no big achievements and therefore, “Some wanted to focus on education. Some felt fencing was not good for girls. There were no job prospects in the sport, unlike athletics or volleyball.” The support from her mother helped her to further her career as a fencer.
Her Several International Medals came after her first Breakthrough with SAI
Devi’s first major breakthrough came when she was invited by coach Sagar Lagu to train at the SAI (Sports Authority of India) in Thalassery, Kerala. At the young age of 16 she moved to Kerala, where she managed her studies and sports at the same time.
Bhavani won a silver medal at the 2014 Asian Championship U23 category in Phillippines. She also became the first Indian to win a gold medal at the Senior Commonwealth Fencing Championship in Canberra in the sabre event in 2019.
She was also the first Indian to clinch a bronze at the 2010 International Open, 2012 Commonwealth Championship, 2015 Under-23 Asian Championship and 2015 Flemish Open.
Devi’s Rio Disappointment and her road to Redemption at the Tokyo Olympics
After her success at the 2014 Asian Championships, Devi got funding to train in the United States for the Rio Olympic Qualifications. Her hard work fell short unfortunately, as she did not have a ranking high enough to qualify for the Olympics, missing out very closely.
“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 News Today back in 2016.
However after almost 5 years of hard work, Devi created history and became the first Indian to qualify for the Olympics in fencing.
She is currently ranked 42nd in the world but has a personal best ranking of 37. She has been training at the Tuscan coastal city of Livorno in Italy, under coach Nicola Zanotti.
She has promised to win a medal for India at the Tokyo Olympics, and India is proud of her achievements. Bhavani Devi has become synonymous with the sport of Fencing as it gets more recognition day by day in India.