Fencer Bhavani Devi overcomes Asian Games disappointment to clinch Commonwealth gold

Even though the final was a tense affair, Bhavani won by a reasonably comfortable margin of three points.

Bhavani Devi arrived in Chennai early Tuesday morning, after winning the gold medal at the Commonwealth Fencing Championship in Canberra, Australia.   -  B. Velankanni Raj

Bhavani Devi earned the rare distinction of being the first Indian to win a gold medal at the Commonwealth Fencing Championship held in Canberra, Australia, beating Emily Ruaux of England 15-12 in the final.

Competing in the senior women’s Sabre event, she qualified for the knockout rounds by finishing second in the league stage, which involves four groups of six competitors each.

Bhavani recorded emphatic victories in the quarterfinals and semifinals, dispatching her opponents 15-5 in both the rounds.

Even though the final was a tense affair, Bhavani won by a reasonably comfortable margin of three points.

Bhavani spoke to Sportstar on her arrival in Chennai from Australia.

“Going into the final, I did not think about winning the gold medal because I would become nervous. To be nervous before the finals is natural when we know that we can clinch the gold medal if we win it. So, no matter what kind of an opposition we face, we are bound to be nervous.

“Before the tournament, yes, I had the aim of winning the gold medal. During the tournament, I didn’t think about the gold medal and wanted to give my best.

“I have faced her (Emily) before and won against her, but only in the league-stage matches, in which the points required to win is five. This is the first time I have won against her in a knockout round. In the first half in the final, I was leading her 8-5, but I was nervous, and she started winning points. In the end, I managed to win 15-12.”

Asked about the strategy she employed to get the better of her opponent in the final, Bhavani said, “In fencing, we cannot (always) play to a set plan. Whatever plan we have in mind, in the heat of the battle, the opponent can make different movements and we have to be ready for everything. The key is to remain calm.”

Only four months before the Commonwealth Fencing Championship, Bhavani endured what she terms as a “very big disappointment” to not participate in the 18th Asian Games.

“Definitely, it (missing out on the Asian Games) was a very big disappointment,” she said, having missed the criteria for qualification. To qualify, she had to finish in the top eight of the Asian Championships in 2018.

“Even now, when I think about it, it saddens me. But it is over, and I can do nothing to change it. I have many other competitions, and I am going to focus on them.”

Bhavani has been training predominantly in Italy recently, though she also trains at Sports Authority of India (SAI) in Thalassery, Kerala.

Asked what the difference is between training in Kerala and Italy, she said, “Italy is one of the best places to train for my event (Sabre). Italy boasts of many Olympic champions in my event and their level is more advanced, while we (in India) are developing gradually. I compete in the senior category and to be competitive, I need to be at their level. So, I need to train like they do and with fencers who are above my level, which is the main reason for training in Italy.”

Bhavani said that she has received plenty of wishes after winning the gold medal, while the national governing body for the sport and her team-mates are happy with her achievement.

“Fencing Association of India was very happy with my achievement. This is a significant medal for fencers. My team-mates were very happy after I won the gold medal, and a lot of others have wished me, and I am yet to see their messages.”