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Chadalavada Anandha Sundhararaman Bhavani Devi is all set to represent India in the Tokyo Olympics 2020 but she believes this is only the beginning for her. From representing India at an international tournament in Turkey as a 14-year-old to qualifying as the first-ever Fencer from India, Bhavani's journey is a true inspiration for the youth in the country and beyond.
Bhavani's Fencing career started in 2004 when she was 11 years old. She had just learnt about fencing from the 'Sports in Schools' initiative and had come to Chennai's Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium for a test. Vishwanathan P, Bhavani's first coach recalls how in 30 seconds she secured a spot in the school's fencing team, reported The Hindu. From practising with bamboo sticks to training in Italy she has come a long way. Now she ranks 42nd in the world and first in the country in Fencing. The lack of knowledge about fencing in the country and the idea of it being a dangerous sport for girls to pursue has always been in the backdrop. With her selection we find a newly emerging interest in this traditional sport growing.
Her undaunting motivation and struggle have now secured her the honour to represent India in 2020 after failing the same in 2016. She recalled, "In 2016, I realised that there is a limit to which you can put pressure on yourself. It backfires."
The port city of Livorno, Tuscany, has been Bhavani's training base for a few years now. But the charms of the city could not overpower her, most of her time in the unknown city was spent staying back in her house in Livorno. Even though her couch did not agree with her spending so much time indoors, Bhavani said, "Getting to the Olympics was my dream, so I was very focussed on it all these years. I was a little hard on myself in restricting myself from doing touristy things on my days off. I usually take complete rest when I don't have the training," reported Firstpost.
Carnemolla, Bhavani's sports psychologist mentioned to Firstpost, "Her life in Livorno is that of a professional athlete who has moved to another continent with a very precise objective: training, training, learning, learning. In Livorno, during the morning and the afternoon, she is in the gym, and in the evening she is home because the next morning she has to train."
Bhavani explained that modern fencing is a combination of three disciplines: the épée, the sabre, and the foil. While in épée, the entire body is a valid target area, in sabre, the upper body becomes the target and in foil, only the torso can receive a strike. The equipment used in these three disciplines varies in flexibility and identity. Italy has always had a tradition of fencing, but for India, this is still a novel sport. Bhavani specialises in sabre fencing. The competition in this category continues for 10 minutes.
Twice in her life, she has contemplated giving up her career in fencing. Fencing In India is an expensive sport. In 2014, owing to financial struggles within the family, Bhavani almost gave up. This was when the GoSports Foundation supported her. She received a scholarship from them in 2015 and started training under an athlete mentorship program named after Indian cricketer Rahul Dravid.
Right before her qualifying match in Budapest in March 2021, she decided to abandon her dream to come back to her mother who was fighting Covid 19 in a hospital bed. Her mother Ramani was always her pillar of strength. Bhavani lost her father in 2019, the thought of her mother suffering made her consider flying back to India. However, a call from her mother stopped her from losing the biggest opportunity in her life. Firstpost reported Ramani telling her that she is fine and encouraged her to chase her dream. "Focus on your game. Take care of Tokyo Olympics qualification. I can manage here. I just need to rest. I'll be home soon," said Ramani.
The pandemic had yet again posed a challenge for Bhavani but could not deter her from her stance. In the absence of a sparring partner due to lockdown, a kitbag—propped up on bricks and with a fencing mask on top—became her makeshift sparring partner. The hard floor of the terrace of her building turned out to be her piste. Her coach, Nicolo Zanotti, observed from Italy via video calling apps. Bhavani mentioned that this makeshift arrangement was not new for her. In her initial days in fencing, she would place a fencing mask on a wall and do target training.
Bhavani had also spent some time in the lockdown recuperating from a back injury, maintaining her fitness levels, and working on her foot speed. The scare of the virus did not discourage her even though she had to return home from Belgium where she was preparing for Olympics selection.
With praises and confidence from her coach and family, Bhavani is all ready to make India proud.
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