US fencers can be spoiled. As Americans, we will gripe about having to travel across the country to go to tourneys or how we don’t have enough ratings for a good tournament. Be thankful that we don’t have the challenges that some countries have such as not having any training partners before you go to the Olympics.
Even worse, what if you weren’t able to return to your country to train because of political unrest? Fencing.net caught up with Africa’s number #1 men’s sabrist who qualified for the Olympics.
Note: Mnnad lost his opening round match at the 2012 Olympics. During the match he was injured (back leg) and was taken to the hospital after the match.
KM: Mnnad, your family has a history of going to the Olympics! Your brother was an Olympian in 2008 and you are an Olympian in 2012. How does it feel to have two Olympians in the family?
It is fantastic and exciting to have two Olympians in the family! We are very honored.
KM: Was there any possibility that both of you could have been on the same team?
Yes, it was very close. Our team would have had to qualify but our country didn’t go to all of the possible team qualifiers so we didn’t qualify our team and we had to qualify individually. If our team would have qualified, we would have both gone.
On our team, my brother is number one and I am number two. There was only one point separating us between first and second.
KM: Holy cow that is close!
KM: So what was it like qualifying for the Olympics for you at African Zonals?
All of the Egyptian fencers were very frustrated with our federation because they were supposed to pay for our entrance to the Zonals, but they had not done that.
So the Egyptian Federation and fencers decided that we would not go to the African championships. Well, when it came time to actually go to African Championships, it was decided that the Federation would allow people to go, but it would be just for fun.
At the beginning, I wasn’t allowed to go since I was the number two fencer in Egypt and only the top person would be allowed to go.
Well, the number one person had already been to two previous Olympics and he decided that he wasn’t going to go to this Olympics which allowed me to go to this Zonal.
KM: Were you prepared to go to this tournament?
I hadn’t done any World Championships or anything like that, so this was the largest tournament of this type that I had gone to.
There were two fencers who were very good and everyone expected one of them to win and go to the Olympics. One was from Senegal and the other was from Tunisia who had trained in France.
I was fortunate and I won over the person from Senegal and now I am going to the Olympics and hope to represent my country well!
KM: What is training like in Egypt now?
It’s not very good because most of the fencers have stopped training. When the federation only paid for the foil team for Zonals, all of the sabrists stopped training. Most of the athletes have to work and I had to train by myself only and take some camps for juniors.
KM: How long have you been training alone?
For several months. My brother fenced with me, but he isn’t really training. I would fence with some of the juniors, but there really wasn’t anyone for me to do any deep training with.
KM: It sounds like Egypt and the US are similar in the fact that most of our Olympic athletes have to balance their life and training instead of being able to be a full time athlete like some countries.
KM: I know that you just finished pharmacy school, how did you balance studying and training at the same time?
Well, I was always training or studying. It was helpful that my family helped me out so that way I could do one or the other. It is hard to train by yourself, but I was training from about 8-3p [15:00].
What is hard in Egypt though, is that most people have to work two full time jobs. One job gets done about mid-afternoon and then you go to your second job. That is why it is so hard for people to train in Egypt.
KM: I know that there are many fencers and coaches who have been moving from Egypt to the US and enjoying success there. As an example, Amgad Khazbak, Lee Kiefer’s coach and the US National Women’s Foil coach, just received the Coach of the Year.
KM: What has it been like having some of your best fencers and coaches moving away from Egypt?
It has been very frustrating, but there isn’t much chance in Egypt. They have problems with the federation and getting new fencers so they find opportunities in other places.
One of our other top fencers just stopped fencing in Egypt and now he is a coach in the US.
KM: How did you start training here in the US?
My federation couldn’t find a camp for me to go to so we started looking in other countries. The president of my club, Alexandria Fencing, reached out to Salem Abdel [Air Force Academy] and he recommended Wang Yung of the Washington Fencing Academy.
He said that Wang was an excellent coach and would be able to work with me individually and help improve my game. He is a Veteran World Champion and has trained some other champions.
KM: Do you think it was more valuable training here instead of some of your other teammates who also trained in NYC?
I’m not certain, but I knew that I was going to get more individual attention here rather than NYC where there are so many fencers. It was very good for me to work one-on-one with someone.
KM: Did you feel that you were still able to get lots of good training here even though there were lots of TV crews and reporters who wanted to interview you about your experience here in Issaquah, WA?
HA! Yes, even when we had to be here at 5a for the TV crews!
It was very special to me when there were so many people who were here that early for the TV shoot. There were over 50 people and fencers here to fill up the room!
It was also welcoming when the newspaper reporters were willing to come in and do the interviews around my training schedule.
I am so happy that coach Wang, Serge and Amy, you, and all the people at WFA made me so welcome here.
KM: I’m glad that you had the opportunity to come and train with Wang and his saber students!
Yes, the training was very helpful and they were willing to come in and train with me around my schedule which made me very happy! Coach Wang has some very good fencers.