The modern sport of Fencing became an increasingly organised competitive sport late in the 19th century. Fencing was introduced for the first time at the 1896 Games in Athens and has remained on the Olympic programme since then. The sport was limited to men until 1924, when the Paris games heralded the entry of women in the competition.
Currently, men and women compete in individual and team events with different types of weapon used – the foil, epee and sabre. Earlier, foil was the only weapon used by women competitors, until the Atlanta Games in 1996 introduced the women’s epee event. Whereas, women’s sabre event was introduced for the first time in the Athens edition in 2004.
It is a totally different story for an Indian woman to break through and make it her ambition to join the Olympics in a sport when not many around her did. Chadalavada Anandha Sundhararamana Bhavani Devi or CA Bhavani Devi on Sunday scripted history to become the first Indian fencer to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. She secured a spot in the World Cup in Budapest, Hungary after the hosts lost in the quarterfinals, which allowed South Korea to progress to the semi-final. The 27-year-old qualified through the Adjusted Official Ranking (AOR) Method.
Born on August 27, 1993, to an encouraging homemaker mother and a father who was a temple priest, she is the youngest of four children from a middle-class family from the southern Indian metropolis of Chennai. Devi started her sports career in 2003 and the following year was introduced to fencing at school. Devi hadn’t heard of the sport until it was introduced in her school in Chennai when she was 9, but her individual endeavour and blazing ambition made her qualify for one of the biggest sporting events in the world.
She enrolled in the Sports Authority of India (SAI) Centre in Thalassery, Kerala, and at the age of 14, appeared in her first international tournament in Turkey. Devi soon paved her way up from junior to a professional category to become an eight-time national champion.
Along her journey, she won the Bronze medal at the 2009 CommonWealth Championship in Malaysia and a similar feat at the 2010 International Open, in Thailand. Devi won the gold in the Senior Commonwealth Fencing championship 2018, in Canberra, Australia. In the process, she became the first Indian to win a gold medal in the Commonwealth championship. The same year, she lost miserably in the initial competitions, but her persistence finally paid off when she bagged the gold in the sabre event at the 2018 Women’s World Cup satellite tournament in Reykjavik, Iceland. Also, the country’s first international gold medal in the sport.
Through her path-breaking journey, Devi overcame everything including a global lockdown to achieve the qualification and is currently ranked 45 in the world among women sabre fencers.