Bhubaneswar: Size does not always matter. Ask Himachal Pradesh Jyotika Dutta, the epee specialist who is taking the Indian fencing world by storm. Petite, lean and more often than not the shorter fencer in a competition, that has rarely come in her way of overpowering taller and bigger opponents.
The 22-year-old underlined her growing stature in the sport on Sunday, clinching the first gold for Guru Nanak Dev University at Amritsar in Punjab in the fencing competition of the Khelo India University Games here.
Just back from a highly productive stint in France, at the International Fencing federation's high-performance centre, Jyotika used that experience to bail herself out from a tricky start.
"Adversity teaches you a lot," she laughed, brushing aside her two defeats in the group stage. "I had some rough starts but was determined not to make the same mistakes in the knockouts."
And sure enough she didn't. Up against an opponent at least six inches taller than her in Yashkeerat Hayer, Jyotika raced to a five-point lead and completed an emphatic 15-5 win.
The final was a much tougher proposition, with Linthoi Haobam (Manipur University) matching her point by point. Yet, Jyotika prevailed 15-14 in a tense bout, using her small frame and quick feet to her advantage.
The Rohru girl started fencing almost 15 years back at the behest of her cousin Jiteshwar Dutta, a fencer and a part-time coach. No one around her, in her small town, had ever heard of the sport.
"In the early days my cousin would train me. He would procure the equipment and teach me the basics," she explained. "I was a sprinter earlier; so I was obviously fitter than most girls my age."
Almost immediately her talent was obvious, and cousin Jiteshwar registered her for a trial at NIS Patiala. It has become Jyotika's home since then.
She attracted attention at the 2018 Asian Games, powering her way all the way to the quarterfinals. In the two years since then, she has only been climbing up, making it to the higher echelons in the sport.
A B.P.Ed student, Jyotika explains how her stint in France has helped her mature as a fencer.
"Being around Olympians and World champions was huge for me," she shared. "Nathalie Moellhausen, the world champion in epee, was training there. Watching her train, and seeing her brilliance even though she is almost a decade older than me was hugely inspiring."
"Competitions are perhaps the most important thing for an athlete's personal growth," she added. "Unfortunately, fencing isn't really a popular sport in India. There are very few competitions to participate in. Having it at the University Games is a huge boost for the sport and for us too. Hopefully, some more kids will pick up the sport," she signed off.