CHENNAI :The most momentous achievement in Indian sport last week was not in athletics as social media would have had you believe. A very good candidate for that award was battling away in Budapest unbeknownst to most people in the country. CA Bhavani Devi might not have a shiny medal to show for her efforts but that doesn’t make her achievement any less monumental. Every step she takes in the world of fencing is a venture into uncharted waters but her latest exploits were truly pioneering.
Last week, at the Fencing World Championships held in Budapest, Bhavani reached the round of sixteen in women’s individual sabre category before losing to eventual bronze medallist Bianca Pascu of Romania by a single point. Her previous best was reaching the top-64.The performance also took her ranking to 44, which means she stands a good chance of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics — an unprecedented achievement for an Indian fencer. “The World Championships were important as they were the last Worlds before the Olympics,” Bhavani said. “And I got more points than any other Asian.” Indeed, no Asian fencer made it to the quarters in her category.
And that matters because her rankings vis-a-vis other Asian fencers will come into play when deciding who gets to go to Tokyo. Fencing at the Olympics has a complicated qualification system. For each category, eight teams — with three fencers each — will qualify for the team events with all of these fencers also getting entry into the individual events.
The hosts get eight quota spots which it can use in any of the six individual events. Then, two of the top-ranked fencers from each continent (only one from a country) gets entry apart from one more via a qualifying tournament. South Korea and China will qualify for the team events. The next four highest-ranked fencers in Asia are all Japanese and then comes Bhavani. That would put her in line for the second qualifying spot from Asia as long as she can maintain her rankings.
But Bhavani is not thinking too far ahead. “The Worlds was very important and I prepared well for it. I was just taking it one round at a time,” she said. “I trained in Italy with my coach Nicola Zanetti. We had a camp there with the French and Italian national teams, so that was very good.”
The path that Bhavani is clearing is a lonely one. No Indian has gone as far as she had in the world of fencing. “In other sports, there’s always someone’s path to follow,” she said. “For me, I don’t know which way to go. Even now, when the results are coming, I’ll only know if the path I took was right only when I reach where I want to.”
Last year, she was in the central government’s Target Olympic Podium scheme but she has gone missing from it this year, something she hopes her Worlds performance will rectify. For now, her training expenses are being taken care of from assistance granted by the Tamil Nadu government, GoSports Foundation, and her own extended family.