The first Indian fencer to qualify for the Olympics, CA Bhavani Devi on Wednesday recalled that she was so desperate to make the cut for the Tokyo Games that she competed in tournaments to improve her rankings despite nursing injuries.

Bhavani qualified for the Tokyo Games through the Adjusted Official Ranking (AOR) Method. Two individual spots were up for grabs for the Asia and Oceania region based on the World Rankings as of April 5, 2021. She is ranked 45th and occupies one of the two available slots based on the ranking.

Bhavani, who failed to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics, said she didn’t know how to pick and choose tournaments and so competed in all of them.

“Since it was the first time for me, I put double the effort. I didn’t know if it was okay to go for all competitions or not. I didn’t want to miss out on anything,” Bhavani said during a virtual press conference.

“So, I tried my best and went for all the competitions. Even when I had some injuries I tried to compete in events. I wanted to do it to get some points and get my ranking in the Asian zone qualification. All those sacrifices and efforts helped me realise my dream,” she added.

The 27-year-old from Chennai feels that Indian fencers will have to go the extra mile to compete with the more experienced European opponents since the sport is new here and is still finding its feet.

“I never had any doubt about my decision regarding this sport whether I had good results or bad, I gave my best. I always tried to improve myself and do better in competitions.

“Because fencing in India is a new sport, it’s developing now, in Italy or any other country they are playing for more than 100 years. So, for us to arrive at that level we have to work double than other advanced countries.

“So, I always worked very hard like I would do three sessions or train on Saturdays that’s why I was able to arrive here.

“If I had missed something in training I wouldn’t have been here and the support from others because we had to spend more money on fencing as I had to compete in many competitions to get more points,” she added.

Talking about her early struggles while pursuing the sport, the sabre fencer, who comes from a humble background, recalled an incident when she lied to join fencing in school.

“They asked for my father’s annual income and said ‘fencing is a very expensive sport, you wont be able to afford it if you come from a poor family’. But I lied and said something more than what my father earned.

“The swords etc. were very expensive in the beginning, we used to play with bamboo sticks and used our swords only for competitions because if we broke them we wouldn’t be able to afford them as it is not easy to buy them in India, you have to import it.”

The first Indian fencer to win gold at an international event, Bhavani spoke about the mental perception people have about fencing in the country.

“Fencing doesn’t get the same respect as other sports here. They think fencing is very easy, if I win a medal it’s very easy. If I lose they think it’s not possible for us to win. People’s mind always thinks about the negative.”

Fencing Association of India President Rajeev Mehta, who was also present at the press conference, said: “We are opening 50 fencing academies at India level. Every academy will have 20-30 students.

“At the district level also we will open 50 centre. This target has to be fulfilled by March 31. Then we will open 70 more district level centres.”

“The sports minister has asked us to spend Rs 20 crore till March 31. This is the first time that fencing has got so much support from the government,” Mehta added.