Olympic countdown: From the verge of quitting to Tokyo, Bhavani Devi’s story (Profile)


From being on the verge of quitting the sport to becoming the first Indian fencer to qualify for the Olympics, life has come a long way for CA Bhavani Devi.

Bhavani, who took up fencing during her school days to avoid classes, qualified for the individual sabre section following the Adjusted Official Ranking (AOR) Method employed after she could not participate in the Asia-Oceania Olympic Qualifying event due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Two individual spots were up for grabs for the Asia-Oceania region based on the world rankings as of April 5, 2021, and Bhavani ranked 45th at that time bagged one of the slots. Her best ranking ever is 36 she achieved in 2017.

However, the 27-year-old daughter of a Chennai temple priest, Bhavani had nearly quit the sport in 2016, unable to bear the high cost of pursuing a sport that is not known much in India. A top-quality fencing suit itself costs a few lakhs and, factoring in the cost of the sword and the electronic equipment, it was too much for their meagre finances and the sponsorship she got from the Tamil Nadu government.

A sponsorship by GoSports Foundation came as a godsend for her.

Her family had spent a lot of money. Several business people also came forward to help, but still, it was difficult for Bhavani to arrange all those things.

“GoSports Foundation selected me under their scholarship scheme called Rahul Dravid Mentorship Programme. When I went for the interview, I never thought I would get the scholarship because fencing was not a popular sport. I decided that if I didn’t get the scholarship, I would stay back home [in Chennai] and stop fencing,” said Bhavani during a media interaction recently as she recalled the hardships she and her family faced in pursuit of her passion.

Having started fencing in 2004, Bhavani started with bamboo sticks.

“[At school] they gave me six sport options including fencing. All the other options were filled by the time I joined and I was left with fencing. It sounded new to me and I was eager to try it. Many didn’t even know fencing existed in India then. It was a very new sport, especially to Tamil Nadu,” she said of her journey.

Though initially she chose fencing to avoid classes, defeat in her first competition disturbed her a lot and she became determined to win her next match.

Bhavani, who was initially coached by Sagar Lagu at the national level and currently trains with Nicola Zanotti in Italy, won her first international medal in 2009 — a bronze in the team event at the 2nd Commonwealth Championship in Malaysia. That was followed by another team bronze in the 2010 Asian Fencing Championship in the Philippines, silver (team) and bronze (individual) in Commonwealth Championships in 2012, and silver in the 2015 Asian Championships in Mongolia.

Her biggest achievement so far is a silver medal she won in the 2017 World Cup event in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Now that she has qualified for Tokyo, Bhavani, who will start her campaign on July 28, is hoping to make the most of her opportunity and go for the medal.