Who is Bhavani Devi - The first Indian fencer to qualify for Olympics?
Fencing, a fledgling sport in India, hogged all the limelight on Sunday afternoon as Bhavani Devi became the first fencer from the country to book an Olympics berth.
The sabre fencer secured a Tokyo 2020 berth at the ongoing Fencing World Cup after hosts Hungary lost in the quarterfinals of the team event and Korea marched into the semis.
That result meant that the World No. 45 bagged one of the two spots available for Asia & Oceania through the Adjusted Official Ranking (AOR) method at the event. She will be a part of the women's individual sabre event at Tokyo 2020.
So, who is Bhavani Devi? Let us have a look at her journey and more.
Devi was born on August 27, 1993 in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Her father is a temple priest while her mother is a homemaker. Since the age of 10, she was drawn to sports. Devi studied at Muruga Dhanushkodi Girls Higher Secondary and then attended St.Joseph's Engineering College in her hometown.
Introduction to fencing
Devi was introduced to one of the least talked about sport in India - fencing - at her school when she was in class VI (2003-04). She started to take interest in the discipline early and it became a serious passion once she started to excel in it.
So much so that after appearing in Higher Secondary Exam (HSC), Devi joined the SAI (Sports Authority of India) Centre in Thalassery in Kerala, to further work on her fencing skills. In fact, the SAI centre in Thalassery is one of the very few institutions in India that has facilities for training in fencing.
Her first international appearance in Turkey, was not a fruitful one, as she was shown a black card for being late by three minutes. That was the highest quantum of punishment in fencing and results in expulsion from the tournament.
But she was not to be deterred.
A woman of many firsts
Devi is not only the first Indian fencer to book an Olympics berth but she has a couple of more firsts to her name. She was the first Indian to bag a silver medal at the 2014 Asian Championship U23 category in Phillippines and also etched her name in history by becoming the first Indian to win a gold medal at the senior Commonwealth Fencing Championship in Canberra in the sabre event in 2019.
But it all started at the international level in the 2009 Commonwealth Championship held in Malaysia where she bagged bronze. Later, she also clinched bronze in events such as the 2010 International Open, 2010 Cadet Asian Championship, 2012 Commonwealth Championship, 2015 Under-23 Asian Championship and 2015 Flemish Open to emerge as the premier Indian sabreuse.
Rio 2016 heartbreak and redemption
Following her success at the 2014 Asian Championship, the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, had granted financial aid for her training in the United States as she sought to qualify for Rio 2016.
For two years, she criss-crossed the globe, trying to improve her rankings and make the cut for the Olympics but fell agonisingly short.
"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.
Her determination as rewarded by being included among 15 athletes selected 'Go Sports Foundation' for the Rahul Dravid Athlete Mentorship Programme and she went to Italy to train.
Almost five years down the line, she has achieved her dream.
Preparation for Tokyo 2020
Devi has been training at the Tuscan coastal city of Livorno in Italy at the academy of coach Nicola Zanotti.
She is currently ranked World No.45. It is, however, not her best-ever ranking as she had earlier reached the 36th spot.