Last year, the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic derailed most events scheduled during the year, including the Tokyo Olympics 2020. However, as the Olympics were pushed ahead, so were numerous qualifiers. Now, as the Olympics approach, Bhavani Devi became the first Indian fencer to ever qualify for the international multi-sport event.
As South Korea finished in the top four of the team event of the World Cup in Budapest, India's Bhavani Devi became the first Indian fencer to qualify for the Olympics. As per reports, South Korea's result allowed her to take one of the two individual spots which are reserved for athletes from Asia and Oceania.
"Finally, I feel free," Bhavani Devi says while speaking about her Olympic qualification.
"We were in the playing hall... I was telling myself if this opportunity slips away, I still have one last qualification event," Bhavani said while speaking to ESPN. She explained the sudden nature of the event, and how she was suddenly hugging her Italian coach Nicola Zanotti while weeping. South Korea won and Bhavani was able to achieve something she had been waiting for her whole life.
" Through all of last year, especially the lockdown, I carried it within me, holding on to this hope," she explained.
This weekend, the Sabre World Cup (in Budapest) marked the first proper international fencing event since the COVID-19 sent the sports world to halt last year. Even reaching Budapest proved to be a struggle, especially as Hungary deals with COVID-19's third wave. With extremely strict protocols in place, Bhavani and her coach ended up driving for around 10 hours from their training base in Livorno, Italy to reach their venue.
They were tested as soon as they reached, and were not allowed to leave their hotel unless they had to reach the venue. "We had food delivered to our rooms and almost everything was shut outside".
Bhavani Devi's career has seen its fair share of struggles, especially as the 27-year-old has spent around five years away from her country, training in Europe. "As an Indian fencer you have to put twice the effort in all aspects, to even stand a chance," she said, explaining how it is not a popular sport in the country, which even makes many ask 'What is fencing or Who is Bhavani Devi?' sort of questions. "I'm used to being the only Indian at major international events through most of my career".
While she is one among four siblings, Bhavani admitted to her parents prioritizing her needs to play as an athlete. She spoke about her journey to Budapest, and how she decided to not have any regrets – irrespective of whether she made it to Tokyo or not. "I know how much I have trained these past five years. How hard I've worked and how tough it's been to stay away from my family, missing every festival and occasion".
Congratulations to Indian fencer Bhavani Devi who has qualified for Tokyo Olympics! She has become the 1st ever Indian fencer to achieve the feat. My best wished to @IamBhavaniDevi pic.twitter.com/NFGJzuB4Dx— Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) March 14, 2021
Bhavani spoke about her only regret being her father – who she lost in 2019 and will not be around to see her play in the Olympics.
"I haven't slept in the last four days," she told ESPN, adding that the might just pass out on the bed. "It's one of those things when your mind is on a loop and just won't switch off". The sabre fencer is aware that her journey will require more efforts, especially with the level of competition at the Olympics.
A combat sport, fencing is one of the first sports to be played at the Olympics. Modern fencing has three disciplines – the foil, the epee and the sabre.