CA Bhavani Devi, the first Indian fencer to win a round at the Olympics, went out with her head held high as she fought well against France’s Manon Brunet 7-15 in a Round of 32 match of the women’s individual sabre competition at the Tokyo Olympics on Monday.
Bhavani Devi, from Chennai who had outplayed Nadia Ben Azizi of Tunisia 15-3 to advance, put up a good fight as Manon, the World No. 3 from France who narrowly missed a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics five years ago, was too strong.
Manon established an early lead as she went on the attack, pushing Bhavani back and making the touch to win points. She had a big lead before Bhavani scored her first point. The first round ended 9-2 in Manon’s favour.
Bhavani was more aggressive in the second round as she narrowed the gap after Manon had scored two more points. Bhavani scored four points in quick succession and narrowed the lead to 11-6 but the French opponent was too strong and too experienced and emerged 15-7 winner.
Earlier in the first-round match, the 27-year-old Bhavani, who had narrowly missed qualifying for the Rio Olympics in 2016, got an early advantage in the first period as she raced to an 8-0 lead, defending well, and counter-attacking to score points against Nadia Ben Azizi of Tunisia.
She used the ‘right of way’ rule to her advantage as she used her quick reflexes to parry attacks by Nadia and score points.
In foil and sabre fencing, the ‘right of way’ rule kicks in when both fencers touch each other at the same time. As a point could be awarded to only one, it goes to the fencer who had the priority. The priority can be gained by either initiating the attack or defending well or by establishing a ‘point-in-line’ which means that the fencer’s arm is extended with the weapon pointing at the target area of the opponent.
The ‘right of way’ can also be gained with a counter-attack against a compound attack before it is finally completed with a hit while the opponent is still in final preparation.
Taking on an opponent ranked 423 in the world, Bhavani Devi used her strong defence to establish the ‘right of way’ and scored points.
In the second period, having established a good lead, the world number 42, went on the attack and scored points easily to cruise to victory.
Bhavani Devi, who took up fencing at school to avoid classes, came to the limelight when she bagged a bronze medal in the 2009 Commonwealth Fencing Championship.
She is the first Indian to win a silver medal in the Asian Championships and gold at the Commonwealth Championships in 2019. She has also won a gold medal in the World Cup event in Paris.
Bhavani had qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in 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.