Currently ranked 42nd in the world and 1st in the country, C.A. Bhavani Devi made history on 15 March by being the first Indian sabre fencer to qualify for the Olympics.
Bhavani Devi found immense support from her mother Ramani when she started her journey in fencing at 10 in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. This is uncommon as the majority of Indians still harbour a patriarchal mindset that frowns upon parents allowing their daughters to take up occupations that require going out of their homes.
Ramani, a homemaker, will accompany Bhavani to Tokyo to watch her daughter’s most anticipated competition after a series of successes at the international level, including a win at the Senior Commonwealth Fencing Championship in Canberra in 2018.
Bhavani specialises in sabre fencing, where the upper body is the target and needs quick reflexes. The daughter of a priest, Bhavani considered giving up the sport in 2014 as she did not want to put her family through financial pressure since equipment like electrically conductive jackets and helmets can cost over $2,000. They also have to be replaced every year.
However, the GoSports Foundation came to her rescue in 2015 and since then she has been training under renowned coach Nicola Zanotti in Italy.
Sputnik has spoken with C. A. Bhavani Devi, who is also trained in taekwondo, karate, and volleyball — and is an enthusiastic classical dancer, about her expectations regarding the Tokyo Olympics and what she had to face during the initial days of her career.
Sputnik: Not many Indians are familiar with fencing as compared to other common sports. What was it that attracted you to fencing? What kind of support did your parents show you when you told them that you would pursue a combat sport like fencing?
Bhavani Devi: The sport itself is fun and exciting. That’s the reason I chose fencing. My parents always supported me when I tried to do other activities. And fencing was the only one I continued and others I quit as I wanted to go for fencing competitions. The support and encouragement I received from my family is the main reason to be able to continue this sport.
Sputnik: What is the most defining moment of your career so far?
Bhavani Devi: Olympic qualification and the day I play in Tokyo.
Sputnik: Please, share your impressions of the performances at recent tournaments. What kind of preparation are you making for the Olympics?
Bhavani Devi: There will be more intense training and more quality training for the Olympics. We will work on all aspects from techniques to physical training. I will be training in Italy.
Sputnik: What factors do you think have played a decisive role in your success so far? Do you expect support from the government ahead of the Olympics and thereafter?
Bhavani Devi: My parents, especially my mother who motivated me and supported me during my difficult phase. And later the support from the Tamil Nadu sports department, Gosports foundation, SAI, FAI has been very important support. Yes, I hope to get support from the government. For Tokyo and after Tokyo. The ministry has already assured their support for Tokyo.
Sputnik: Are you fond of any other sports and who is your biggest inspiration?
Bhavani Devi: I like all sports. All women achievers inspire me a lot. PT Usha, Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal, etc. Everyone inspires me.
Sputnik: We saw in the past when athletes like Saina Nehwal, Vijainder Singh, or Sushil Kumar won medals at Olympics the popularity of that individual sport increased. Do you expect such defining moments for fencing in the country after the Tokyo Olympics?
Bhavani Devi: Definitely, yes. Nowadays, everyone knows about this sport. Soon all people will understand fencing and provide more support and recognition.
Sputnik: Do you have lucky charms that bring you success?
Bhavani Devi: Nope.
Sputnik: How often do you practice?
Bhavani Devi: We train all days, except Sunday.
Sputnik: Have you ever had any injuries while fencing?
Bhavani Devi: Yes, several times, lower back and my shoulders.
Sputnik: And finally, have you ever had any trouble at airports trying to bring swords on planes?
Bhavani Devi: No, but most of the time I have paid a lot for the sports baggage.