Bhavani Devi, the trailblazing Indian fencer, has soared to new heights following her bold move to France. With a historic bronze medal from the Asian Fencing Championships held in China’s Wuxi, Bhavani firmly believes she has transformed into a superior fencer compared to her time at the Tokyo Olympics. The catalyst behind this remarkable metamorphosis? Bhavani’s decision to train under the expert guidance of sabre master Christian Bauer.
Reflecting on her journey, Bhavani expressed, “I truly believe that I am a better fencer now than during my Tokyo days. My entire fencing style and approach have undergone a profound change. I have gained a deeper understanding of the game and its intricacies. The preparation and experiences from Tokyo have immensely contributed to this growth.” Delving into the nuances, she added, “My positioning on the piste, my attacking strategies, and the meticulous planning of tactics have all witnessed a significant transformation. Each coach brings their unique perspective, and this shift from my previous coach, Nicola Zanotti, has made a world of difference.”
The turning point came when Bhavani relocated to Orleans, France, in 2021, to embark on a training journey under the esteemed mentorship of Christian Bauer, renowned for nurturing sabre fencers to Olympic success. Bauer’s coaching prowess has been instrumental in shaping the careers of numerous accomplished athletes, including Aldo Montano, the individual gold medalist at Athens 2004, and the formidable Chinese women’s sabre team, who clinched silver at Beijing 2008. His expertise was also evident in the achievements of Russian sabre fencers at both London 2012 and Rio 2016, where the European powerhouse secured multiple medals, including those in Bhavani’s event, earned by Yana Egorian and Sofya Velikaya.
The transition to Bauer’s training methods and distinct style was not without its challenges for Bhavani, who was accustomed to the Italian approach under Zanotti. She shared, “The shift from Livorno to Orleans marked a colossal change in my fencing journey. Bauer, being a seasoned coach, operates at an elite level. The training environment became more competitive, and the strategic nuances evolved. Although the techniques were similar, their application differed. Personally, it was a significant adjustment. Adapting to the Italian style under Zanotti had come naturally to me, but this new chapter posed challenges. Sustaining consistency throughout the season was demanding. However, I always believed that one day, the results would manifest.”
The arduous journey bore fruit when Bhavani triumphed over the formidable Japanese fencer, Emura Misaki, with a resounding 15-10 victory in the quarter-finals. Previously, Bhavani had encountered defeat in all their three prior encounters. Reflecting on this momentous win, Bhavani shared, “My primary focus was to fight till the very end against Misaki. I was determined to rectify the mistakes I made during our previous meeting at the Asian Championships. I aimed for rhythm and precise control on the piste, which paid off. I maintained the right distance and timing, ultimately securing the win.”
The victory over Misaki, although not without its fair share of drama, symbolized Bhavani’s unwavering spirit. Despite a momentary setback when the score leveled at 10-10, Bhavani remained undeterred. She recalled, “In fencing, anything can happen. When it became 10-10, I felt a touch of insecurity as Misaki rapidly bridged the gap from 2-8. It was an impressive
comeback on her part. However, I refused to surrender. Employing indirect attacks and counter-attacks, I secured five consecutive points.”
This historic bronze medal holds immense significance for Bhavani, not only as an individual accomplishment but also for Indian fencing as a whole. She stated, “For a country like India, our focus in fencing has primarily been on improving rankings or reaching the Round of 32 or 64. It was crucial for us to break this pattern and ascend to the podium. This achievement marks a pivotal milestone for Indian fencing, following my groundbreaking qualification for the Olympics. The medal has instilled an unshakeable confidence in myself and the work I put in.”
Bhavani Devi’s phenomenal journey continues to inspire and reshape the landscape of Indian fencing. Her triumph at the Asian Fencing Championships represents a significant breakthrough, solidifying her status as a true pioneer in the sport. As she continues to master her artistry, Bhavani leaves an indelible mark on the rich tapestry of Indian fencing history.