CHENNAI: She has excellent footwork and takes her next ‘stab’ with precision. One wrong move and she could be at the receiving end of the ‘sword’. No, this is not a review of Brienne’s sword skills from Game of Thrones.
We’re talking about C A Bhavani Devi from Washermanpet, the national fencing champion who is now training for the Rio Olympics 2016.
Such as it is with back-stories of great sportspersons, hers is rather inspirational. Bhavani was introduced to fencing in 2004 while studying in Muruga Dhanushkodi Girls Higher Secondary School. “Initially, I chose fencing to get away from classes in school. But, when I lost my first competition, I was determined to win,” she recalls. A bronze medal in her next made her crave for more and thus she practiced harder for the elusive gold. “It has been a very long journey, so many ups and downs with disappointments and financial constraints,” shares the 22-year-old.
Watching her senior players at the Nehru Stadium, she says that their success stories inspired her. “When we had the Junior Commonwealth Championships in Chennai, I was not only attending my classes but would also watch others train and compete,” she says.
Bhavani was in Class 10 when Sagar Lagu, one of the best coaches in India, spoke to her about joining his centre, SAI Centre in Thalasseri (Kerala). “I was delighted and after finishing Class 10, I moved to SAI and completed schooling and also BBA there,” says the gold winner in National Games (2011 and 2015).
Considered as a niche sport that people are unaware about, Bhavani attributes it to the lack of importance given to international competitions in India. “I was unaware of other competitions in the world but later on I understood that there are World Cups and Grand Prix’s.”
Talking about her first international tournament in Turkey, she narrates her first experience for being late. “I got a black card for being late by three minutes for the competition; I was 14 then. Since then I’ve always been a little early for competitions,” she recollects.
After the 2010 Asian Games, the fencers were not funded for national or international competitions. “I was upset for not being able to compete. But my mother, who has been supportive of my fencing career, worked hard to find sponsors and gather funds from the government for me to participate in international tournaments,” she explains. Bhavani is currently under the fiver-year ‘Elite Scheme’ provided by the TN Government.
With the ranks being a fluctuating affair, she remains undeterred. “I used to track my rankings before but now, my focus is completely on my performances. It is obviously great to be among the top ranks. And of course, I aspire to be in the top 10 in the world,” grins the fencer who currently ranks No 6 (in Asia).
She is now training with World Champion Edward Korfanty in Portland, USA for the Rio Olympics this year. “I am training hard for the qualifying round. But, my long term goal is to win a medal at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.” She was among the 15 athletes who were selected recently for a scholarship by GoSports foundation amid 200 applicants.
Bhavani dreams of joining the Indian Police Service one day, but has her eye firmly set on her sports career for now. “I still have time for that and I will be pursuing an MBA this year,” she adds.
We have very talented fencers but due to financial constraints they aren’t able to make it to the next level. That’s why there’s a difference between international players and us. We are updated with the rules, techniques but don’t have proper fencing equipment in the country. The equipment we use during National tournaments are not allowed when we compete in international championships. And importing equipment from abroad increases the costs significantly. Not just us, even the coaches need exposure and access to better infrastructure and equipment.