The Chennai athlete looks back on the sacrifices her parents made to fuel her ambition and talks about preparations for the world’s biggest stage.
What was your first reaction when it was confirmed that you qualified for the Tokyo Olympics?
There was a sense of relief. It took me some time to realise that I have finally made the cut. This is reward for the hard yards I have put in, the effort that my coaches and support staff have put in, and for my mother who has been a pillar of support. Having said that, qualifying for the Olympics is just the first step as the real test will start now.
Bhavani Devi of India (L) fences Jiyeon Seo of Korea in the final elimination rounds of the Absolute Fencing Women’s Sabre World Cup on December 14, 2019 at the Salt Palace Convention Centre in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Getty Images)
Did you take some time to rewind your journey?
Yes, I did. From the time I picked up fencing over a decade-and-a-half ago in school to now – all these years flashed past. I remembered the tough moments, the sacrifices of my parents, preparations for this day for the past few years.
What was the role your parents played in your fencing sojourn?
I am here because of my family. There are no two ways about it. Despite hailing from a middle-class background (father C Sundararamana was a priest and mother Ramani a housewife), my parents stood by me through thick and thin. My mother pawned her jewellery to fuel my ambition. They would borrow money to help me participate in competitions. I have missed competitions when we failed to arrange for the money. I lost my father two years ago and I am missing him the most at this point of time.
Over the years, my support system has included the GoSports Foundation who back me through the Rahul Dravid Athlete Mentorship Programme, the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu, Sports Authority of India and Tamil Nadu Electricity Board. There are so many people whom I want to thank at this time without whom this journey wouldn’t have been possible.
You missed the 2016 Rio Games but made the grade this time. What have been the changes you brought to your game in the last few years?
The first change I made was to my mental make-up. Earlier, I would put undue pressure on myself, but not anymore. Today, I carry what I call ‘good stress’ ahead of any event or training. It includes staying in the moment, giving my best shot and not have any regrets if the result doesn’t go in my favour. It’s easier said than done but I have got into that mode now. I had prepared for a year or so to qualify for the Rio Games and missing the bus hurt me. It taught me the importance of preparation and putting in place strong processes so that the results will follow.
You have been working with Italian coach Nicola Zanotti for the past four-and-a-half years. How has he shaped your game?
Having worked with him for so long, we understand each other well. He made me realise my potential, the areas I could work and got the best out of me. He has changed my approach towards the sport and I am a more confident fencer now. Apart from Nicola, my base in the sport was set by other prominent coaches Vishwanathan in Chennai and Sagar Lagu from Sports Authority of India in Thalaserry.
Will there be changes in the way you train ahead of the Games?
Not at all. In fact, we will continue to train the way we have all these years. We have always looked for continuity in our training sessions and that will not change because I have qualified for the Olympics.
Congratulations to Indian fencer Bhavani Devi who has qualified for Tokyo Olympics! She has become the 1st ever Ind… https://t.co/N9AzRu2I63
— Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) 1615724113000
How have you seen the profile of fencing as a sport change?
The sport is becoming popular with more and more fencers taking to it. For many years now, I have been the lone Indian representation in international fencing meets. I hope that scenario changes in the coming years. With more performances by athletes on the international circuit, the profile of fencing will surely go up in future.
Do you reckon that fencing will be followed more in India now that we have a fencer who will feature at the Olympics?
I would hope so. The more people support fencing, the better it is for the sport. I will be the happiest if I am able to motivate youngsters to take up fencing. It is a fantastic sport that teaches you sharpness, agility and is extremely competitive.
It’s been a long journey for you. How do you plan to celebrate this important moment in your life?
I don’t have anything planned. Since I haven’t slept much in the past few days, the aim will be to get some good sleep.