Two fast steps – nearly a dance – after which the lightning lunge. The tip of Bhavani Devi’s sword plunged into Sarah Jane. A crimson mild flashed; the profitable hit is scored. Bhavani pumped her fists and set free a roar. She eliminated her masks and walked away – she had simply develop into the primary Indian fencer to win a global match. The massive second got here and quietly slipped previous Bhavani in Reykjavik, Iceland in 2017. There was no fanfare; no teammate or coach by her aspect. Just Bhavani and her sword.
It has been this fashion so long as she remembers; a lonely journey. Fencing will not be a sport India is aware of. Bhavani is undeterred by the absence of a historical past of the game within the nation, or the restricted coaching amenities, or her dad and mom’ wrestle to rearrange funds for her – her mom is a homemaker and her father a priest in Chennai.
“Till I won that gold medal (in Reykjavik) no one knew much about fencing, no one cared much about my performance other than the people very close to me. I used to travel alone without any coach,” stated the 26-year-old sabre fencer.
“I cannot forget that moment. I was alone and I couldn’t share that joy with others but that competition was a turning point for me and for fencing in India.”
The triumph put Bhavani firmly on observe to develop into the primary Indian fencer to compete on the Olympics. It would have been a outstanding achievement, besides, simply as she was shut to creating the reduce for the Tokyo Games, the pandemic occurred.
“The first few weeks when the pandemic started it was really hard for me,” she stated. “I was in Italy. I came back from a competition in Greece. My coach said there is a chance that Italy might go into a lockdown so we need to plan for our training. Next day I left for Belgium where they were having a training camp. That was also cancelled and I had to return home. As far as the Olympics were concerned, we did not know what would happen.
“That period was very tough for me because I worked very hard for the last few years for this time, to compete in the Tokyo Olympics. But it was not in anybody’s control and after they announced the Olympics had been postponed, I felt a bit calmer.”
After using via the months-long lockdown and lack of coaching, Bhavani picked up the sword once more lately and is again at work in Chennai, coaching on the Centre for Sports Science at Ramachandra University.
She has been working with Nicola Zanotti, a famend Italian coach who has led the Italian staff to a number of Olympic medals, since 2016. Stuck in Chennai, Bhavani’s coaching is being monitored over mail and videoconferencing from Italy.
“He will ask me to focus on offense action or defensive action on particular days,” she stated. “He gives me the details of each workout session. I am doing basic fitness this week. I had intensive training two weeks ago. So next two weeks will focus on fitness and rehab exercise for some injuries in the past, and again get back to intense training.”
Bhavani is now eagerly ready for competitions to restart and likewise to return to Italy to her coaching base.
“With my current world ranking (45) I am almost certain to qualify (for the Tokyo Olympics),” she stated.
“There would be no competition for next few months. Competition might start towards the end of the year, so I need to keep myself fresh and slowly increase the intensity of our training.”
Her stint with Zanotti has meant an enormous leap in abilities, Bhavani stated, citing a match on the 2019 World Championships the place she was up in opposition to Romania’s Biance Pascu, a former world No.5, within the final 16 stage. Bhavani was trailing 5-13 when she started to work together with her timing and motion. She mounted a spirited fightback and took the match to 14-all.
“In the last point I made a blind mistake and lost the match, but it was great learning for me,” she stated. “If I can give performances like that I can beat anyone.”
Fencing got here to Bhavani by chance in 2004, when she was ten years outdated. That yr, she had joined a brand new college in Chennai and was trying to join a sport.
“I don’t like to sit at one place. When I moved to a new school in standard 6 we had to choose one sport,” she stated. “The only option was fencing because all places in all other sports were filled up.”
She had by no means heard of it, however it intrigued her that it concerned dealing with a sword.
When the time got here to choose one among the many three fencing occasions, she went for the quickest – sabre.
Her first breakthrough got here three years later when Sports Authority of India (SAI) coach Sagar Lagu noticed her and invited her to coach on the SAI academy in Thalassery, Kerala.
“It’s a professional training base for any athlete so I was so excited to join that place. I waited to finish my 10th class in Chennai and shifted to Kerala in 2008,” Bhavani stated.
Lagu, a former worldwide participant from Maharashtra, has himself been studying the artwork via trial and error. “There is lack of knowledge about the sport in India. We don’t have that much playing experience because we participate in just a few tournaments. We don’t have coaches and experts,” he stated.
“It is very difficult when you do not have any benchmark in front of you, no role models, no achievements to follow,” Bhavani stated. “I didn’t get to participate much internationally at the junior level and the difference at the senior level was huge.”
The assist she received from her dad and mom and her coach saved her going.
“Parents of my friends and other people in the fencing family advised my parents ‘why are you letting your daughter continue in this sport? There is no future in it, no jobs.’ But my parents never told me anything about quitting. They always motivated me.”
However, a time got here when Bhavani was nearly able to give up – she knew she needed to prepare outdoors India to make any headway within the sport, however she had no funding to talk of.
“My family had spent a lot of money. There were several business people who also came forward to sponsor me, but still the equipment expense is very high and I was tired of organizing all those things,” she stated. “I had thought of giving up in 2013.”
It was then that she received chosen for a Go Sports Foundation scholarship programme and that modified every thing. In 2016, she shifted to Italy and started the following step of her evolution as a fencer.
Why did she work so arduous at a sport she knew nothing about?
“I fell in love with the sword, jacket, the mask,” she stated.
“And attacking people,” she added after a pause and grinned.