Childhood fantasy becomes Olympic reality for SA’s sole fencer in Paris

By Karien Jonckheere

Flashing swords and clashing steel… who wouldn’t be fascinated? That’s what initially drew Harry Saner to fencing, and what’s now created a path for the 23-year-old to the Olympic Games in Paris.

“I was always fascinated with swords. Who isn’t as a kid?  So many movies showed fencing in so many ways that when I saw it on the TV I knew I had to start it. I begged my parents and soon they found the club that I’m still at today,” explained the Wits mechanical engineering student who trains at Tyshler Fencing School in Randburg.

Having taken up the sport around the age of 10, Saner soon climbed up the ranks and developed a real love for the sport.

“I love that fencing is a beautiful balance of physicality and mentality that transforms into a battle of wits. It’s like high-speed chess. Or your favourite movie fight scene. I absolutely wish more people knew about it. I’d love to fence more people and give more people the awesomeness fencing has given me,” he explained.

Securing his place in Paris involved winning the African Zonal Olympic Qualifier in Algeria. That he achieved by beating Mauritian Satya Gunput 15-14 in the semifinal before getting the better of Mali’s Keletigui Diabate 15-13 in the final.

“I know I was the fittest I’ve ever been for the zonal championship I won. Having that foundation already has given me the confidence to be fitter and fence better than I ever have before. So I can’t wait to see just how much better I become.”

Saner’s coach, Gennady Tyshler, has trained numerous Olympians while his father, David Tyshler, was an Olympic medallist for the Soviet Union in 1956. The coach believes fencing is the type of sport where little-known athletes can often spring a surprise on the more established stars.

“I’m sure I can!” reckoned a confident Saner. “No one has really had the opportunity to overanalyse the way I fence but there is so much out there that I can use to make a few creative problems for my upcoming opponents.”

Saner will be representing the country in épée, one of the three disciplines in fencing – the other two being foil and sabre. In épée there are no right of way rules regarding attacks which means any hit which is made is counted. Hits are awarded based on which fencer makes a hit first, according to an electrical recording apparatus.

“I’m most excited to fence in front of the French crowd. I hope it’s as electrifying as I think it’s going to be,” he said. “And since it’s a country with so much history and tradition for fencing I’m excited to show them what I’ve got. I’m going there with a medal-winning mentality and I know that will take me further than I’ve ever gone before.”

Fencing at the Paris Olympic Games runs from 27 July to 4 August.