Left Italy just before lockdown, says fencer Bhavani Devi

Shivani Naik

Bhavani Devi has one eye on the Sint-Niklaas women's sabre World Cup at Belgium. (Source: File Photo)

India's international fencer Bhavani Devi is back in Chennai from Italy, but has one eye on the Sint-Niklaas women's sabre World Cup at Belgium. Ranked 45th in the world right now, she will hope Korea, with a team rank of 4, maintain their place ensuring automatic qualification of their 3-member team.

Should the rankings freeze without the meet going ahead owing to Coronavirus concerns, then her spot gets sealed.

The Covid-19 outbreak was to have minimal effect on fencing Olympics qualifications with March 20-22 event in Belgium being the last event determining team places. But it's a photo finish for Bhavani.

The Chennai swordswoman would need 5th ranked Hungary to not leapfrog Korea to qualify via "Adjusted Official Ranking (AOR)" where she is currently slated on Spot 1 (of the two available from Asia). If Japan avail of their host nation individual slot for sabre, then she will pick the second spot.

Should Hungary upstage Korea though (they did in Greece a fortnight ago), the Chinese might pip her to the two AOR spots, and she will need to head into continental qualifiers. The Russian team circuitously helped the Indian, staving off Hungary at the last World cup at Greece keeping them out of Top 4.

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Just 10 days back, Bhavani was bang in the middle of her training-cum-competition shuttling between Greece and Italy and finally for a camp in Belgium ahead of the World Cup to be held over this weekend. It's when the Covid-19 cases in Italy - her training base, surged exponentially. The sabre fencer returned to India in the nick of time.

Taking some quick decisions and relying on sheer luck, she is back home from Tuscany. "In Livorno there wasn't much problem as most cases were in the north ..but I left for Belgium for a camp, and the day after that the Italian government locked down the whole country ..I was just lucky," she says.

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While it's thrown her qualification plans - she was on the brink - into disarray, she stays in contact with her coach Nicola Zanotti and other academy-mates. "I contact them almost every day ..all are fine," she informs.

Bhavani was in regular training till the World Cup at Greece in the first week of March, and was to head to Belgium. The seaside Livorno remained cautious till two weeks back but not on the edge. "Even when I was there, people were normal in our city and we only heard news about north (Italy, where the pandemic outbreak was immense), but we didn't experience infections then." But a day after she left for Belgium, Italy went into lockdown to stem the spread even as north remained the epicenter.

This might well be just the start of uncertainty. "Yes everything is closed there. I don't know when they will open. Even in India, everything is closed till 31st, even though we don't have as many cases, like them. So I don't know what's gonna happen," she says.