Bhavani Devi has not just put India on the world map in sport of fencing but has also brought fame to the little-known sport of fencing in the country.

Fencing is one of the five sports which has been played from the first modern Olympics but very few of us in India might have actually seen a fencing bout and still fewer if asked, might not be able to name a fencer.

Being associated with hardly acknowledged sport Bhavani Devi had to overcome many barriers – right from crowdfunding for her initial tournaments to winning medals on the international circuit, she surely has come a long way.

Background of Bhavani Devi

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Bhavani Devi is the only Fencing player from India to have international recognition in this sport.

Bhavani Devi was born on 27 August 1993 into a middle-class family. Her father was a priest and her mother a homemaker. In 2004, 11 years old Bhavani Devi picked up fencing as a sport at her school in Tamil Nadu. While most of her classmates went for popular sports, Devi had her eyes set on the sword.

“I chose fencing because it was different and not a lot of people thought that girls could participate in such sports. I wanted to prove them wrong,”

After finishing class 10 she joined the Indian fencing coach Sagar Lagu at Sports Authority of India Centre in Thalassery, Kerala.

Early career Bhavani Devi and her story so far…

At the age of 14 Bhavani Devi appeared at her first international tournament in Turkey, where she got black card for being late by three minutes.

Bhavani competes with a sabre type of sword, which is shorter than the other (two types of swords, which are epee and foil) weapons used for fencing.

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As of now Bhavani’s main aim is the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
  • Won bronze medal at 2009 Commonwealth Championship held in Malaysia,
  • In 2010  won bronze medals in –
    • Cadet Asian Championship in the Philippines
    • International Open, Thailand
  • Won Gold in 2012 Commonwealth Championship, Jersey
  • Gold Medal in the 2014 Tuscany Cup, Italy
  • In 2014 Asian Championship under 23 category in the Philippines she bagged the Silver medal becoming the first Indian to do so.
  • Bronze in 2015 Under-23 Asian Championship, Mongolia, and 2015 Flemish Open.
  • 2017 CA Bhavani Devi became the first Indian to win a gold medal in an international fencing event at the Turnoi Satellite Fencing Championship at Reykjavik in Iceland.
  • 2018 won silver in the sabre category at the Tournoi World Cup Satellite fencing championship in Reykjavik.

Bhavani Devi Eyeing Olympic glory in 2020

Having missed out on two Olympics – 2012 & 2016 – Bhavani Devi feels she’s on the right path for the Tokyo Games in 2020.

“I was underprepared for London (2012) and lost out on Rio because I was too anxious and stressed out to be able to give my best in the qualifiers. Now, I have a better understanding of my abilities and a clearer picture of my goal.”

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Bhavani is supported by Go Sports Foundation.

In 2015, she was selected by ‘Go Sports Foundation‘ for ‘Rahul Dravid Athlete Mentorship Programme’ under SDAT Elite Scheme scholarship which is also backed by Sports Authority of India.

Under the scheme she is undergoing training in Italy with coach Nicola Zanotti. Bhavani believes training in Italy has kept her in the best possible shape.

“My coach – Nicola Zanotti – is from Italy and I have been coaching under him. Fencing is a very popular sport in Italy and they are one of the top-ranked teams in the world,” she said.

Interestingly, Bhavani took part in the Italian national fencing tournament last year where she won a bronze.

Bhavani Devi has not only worked hard on her skill-set but also gave a lot of emphasis on the mental aspect of the sport.

“Fencing is a sport where a clash lasts for about 10 minutes. It is important to be mentally and physically agile. I have worked religiously on my defence which is a vital aspect of my game. Also, I have a mental trainer – Angelo Carnemolla – who has been associated with numerous fencers before and offers a lot of value addition,”

Also it’s helped her solve the one constant problem in her career so far – not having a coach accompanying her to competitions, because of inadequate funds.

The star fencer is confident of winning the upcoming Asian championships in Bangkok, and thankful to ‘Go Sports Foundation’ and Sports Authority of India for their support.

“Their support has been a crucial element in my success,” she said.

Fencing: How did the sport start in India?

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Fencing started in India with foundation of Fencing Association of India in 1974.

Fencing Association of India was recognized by Indian Government in 1997 and it is affiliated to the Indian Olympic Association, Asian Fencing Confederation, Commonwealth Fencing Federation and Fédération Internationale d’Escrime (FIE).

“We are improving, but the speed is slow”, she says.

Basheer Khan, secretary general, Fencing Association of India also agrees with Bhavani Devi.

“A lot is yet to be achieved. There was a time when there was no funding, no infrastructure and no equipment. However, things are changing. The government is recognizing fencing as a potential sport for winning medals at international events. It has also been included in the Khelo India initiative.”

There are, however, issues plaguing the sport in India, such as lack of good coaching and infrastructure. Devi, who is currently training in Italy, says the facilities are far better in foreign countries.

To ensure the sport reaches the interiors of the country, local fencing groups and clubs, too, are working hard.

NCR-based Pegasus Royal Fencing Club headed by Aswani Kumar, a former army officer is one such example. The club sees a lot of youngsters taking up the sport.

“It’s not a very popular sport, but the interest is going up, especially among children. A lot of them have now started taking it up seriously. We need to groom the younger generation more if fencing has to reach international standards,” says Kumar.

Bhavani Devi believes the sport has a long way to go in India. She says, laughing “I don’t think people know what I look like, so I’m yet to put a face to it.”

Despite the lack of funds, long-term training programmes and coaches of international caliber, Indian fencers are gradually ascending the ranks.

One can imagine the wonders they could work if given enough support and sponsorship…

Fencing: An overview

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Bhavani participates in the Sabre event of Fencing.

Fencing, organized sport since late 19th century involving the use of swords for fighting. Fencing competitions are categorised into epee, foil, and sabre – the three types of swords for attack and defense according to set movements and rules.

  • In Epee, the first person to hit the opponent wins the point. The entire body, head-to-toe, is a valid target.
  • In Foil, points are scored with the tip of the blade on valid target, the torso from shoulders to groin in the front, and to the waist in the back. But the arms, head, neck, and legs are considered off target.
  • In Sabre, the target area is the entire body above the waist, excluding the wrists. The lower half is not a valid target. The sword has to touch the opponent’s body with a prescribed level of force. There are three rounds of 7 minutes each and the gear is fitted with sensors that help in identifying the touch points to facilitate scoring.

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