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Student-athlete Harry Saner has fulfilled a lifelong dream, having secured his place in the fencing competition at this year’s Summer Olympics in Paris, France.

The 23 year old from Johannesburg, who took up fencing at age nine after “wanting to become a knight in shining armour”, came through a gruelling qualification process to eventually top the zonal African qualifiers held in Algiers, Algeria in April, and in so doing, will become the first South African fencer to participate in the Olympics since 2008.

Saner had fallen ill in the weeks building up to the qualifiers, severely hampering his training regime, and knowing what was at stake, admits he was a whirlwind of emotions ahead of his epee final.

“The emotions on the day of the competition were expectedly unexpected, admitted Harry Saner. I’ve never had my head swirl with so many thoughts, worries, moves, and tactics all in one day. Luckily I feel that my mental strength and practice carried me through those thoughts and emotions, so I could be victorious in the end.” And the release of emotion was evident following his victory over Mali’s Keletigui Diabate.

“Sealing the victory was pure elation!” he says. “I had thought it through before and once I scored the last point I walked to the line, shook hands and saluted my opponent, and once the referee had awarded me the win, I screamed as hard as I could, for as long as I could!” 

Fond memories of Chengdu FISU World University Games

Saner has already competed in various competitions across the globe, but has fond memories of last year’s FISU World Student Games in Chengdu.

“The FISU Games last year was electrifying!” he recalls. “I loved the experience because it had such a high level of professionalism and athlete friendliness. Competing with other student-athletes was also amazing. Many of the students I saw there are regulars on the World Cup and Grand Prix circuits for fencing, and I’m glad I could see some friendly faces and make new friends. The level of the competition was almost the same as the regular international events, and I loved being able to test my mettle against fencers of a similar age.”

A mechanical engineering student

Alongside his love for fencing, which Saner describes as a “combination of mental and physical attributes that transform a duel into a graceful dance of battle”, the committed student-athlete is also in his final year of Mechanical Engineering, an extremely demanding course which has given him a unique perspective in life.

Saner says “doing fencing and a challenging degree have complemented each other well”.

“Fencing is a passion for me and I know once I’m finished my studies I will have to work to fund my fencing,” he says. “But besides the financial necessities of education, doing both fencing and a challenging degree have complemented each other well. When there is pressure to perform in fencing, I know I have been able to perform academically under pressure and vice versa. Doing both has helped keep a braod perspectiveon life, knowing that failing or succeeding in sports or academics isn’t the be-all or end-all. There is always something bigger than me and my achievements, and being able to take a step back from fencing or academics has helped to give me the confidence and self-belief that I know will carry me forward in life, no matter the challenges or obstacles.”

An extra-large sized ticket to the Paris Olympic Games.

Right now though, with less than two months to go until Paris, Saner’s epee has only one target in sight.

“Qualifying for the Olympics has been an achievement in itself and going forward, I’m training with a medal-winning mentality because I know I’m going up against a formidable field of opponents. I plan to give them the best fencing of my life!”

Written by Fabio De Dominicis, images courtesy of the FIE