African fencers living the dream in Nanjing
Togo’s Abla Francoise Koutoglo (TOG) and Ciss Ndeye Salimata of Senegal might have suffered comprehensive defeats on their international fencing debuts at Nanjing 2014, but they have still loved being part of the Youth Olympic Games.
The duo – the only entries in the women’s sabre event not to have an International Fencing Federation (FIS) ranking – will leave China feeling they have edged closer to their dreams of establishing themselves on the fencing world circuit.
“I would have liked to win, but she (Emura) is the Cadet World Championship bronze medallist and was too strong for me,” said Koutoglo.
“She was more aggressive than me, that's why she won. I was leading but then I made some mistakes and she stepped up her fencing.”
Fencing first for Togo
The 15-year old is the first fencer from Togo to participate on the Olympic stage. “I began fencing when I was 10 because I saw some other kids fencing and I wanted to try it too,” she said.
“I liked it a lot, so that's why I started, but training to be a good fencer in Togo is not easy at all. I still go to school and I don’t have much time to train.
“There are more or less 300 fencers in Togo, and among cadets and juniors there are 150 youngsters. I was the best girl out of them and I managed to qualify for these Youth Olympic Games. My dream is to become a fencing champion.”
Senegal has a little more pedigree in international fencing than Togo. Alexandre Bouzaid (SEN) participated in the epee competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games and Salimata is the second fencer from her country to compete at the YOG.
The 17-year-old lost 15-3 to Theodora Gkountoura (GRE) in the round of 16 but still felt the whole experience had been hugely beneficial.
“Yes I lost, but my participation at the Youth Olympic Games has been a really great satisfaction for me anyway,” she said.
New horizons for Salimata
“It's the greatest event I've ever been in. So far, I've only won one big tournament in Africa and I've never competed with any athletes from other continents. This is my first international competition and I cannot be unhappy.
“It's such a difficult tournament for me. I've never fenced so many good opponents in one day. And the best ones in the world are competing here in Nanjing.”
Just like Koutoglo, Salimata started fencing only a few years ago and she is facing the same problems with training. “I got into fencing thanks to my elder sister, as she used to fence before me. I liked it from the beginning, so I started practising in 2009,” she explained.
“There are 500 fencers in Senegal and fencing is not that widespread throughout our country. There are 150 kids who are into fencing. I don't train a lot because of school, let's say a maximum of twice a week,” she added.
“My dream is to gain a lot of experience in sabre, as I've just done here in Nanjing. The more I compete internationally, the more I will get better. But I can already say that I competed in the Olympic Games, which is a real dream come true for me.”