My friend Marc is really keen to watch fencing, and was finally able to score Olympic tickets. He had practiced the sport for a year and explains it’s all about speed, agility and balance.
He says it gets really sweaty under the clothing, the mask and chest protector, which makes it a good workout.
The other morning I went to the Fencing Hall at the Olympic Green to check out a bit of en garde action. Just my luck, I managed to watch Jujie Luan of Edmonton in her second round match against Hungary’s Aida Mohamed.
Luan is 50 and she gave China’s its first gold medal in fencing at the 1984 Olympics. She also competed at the 1988 Games in Seoul. The following year she immigrated to Edmonton with her family after she fell in love with the city when she competed in the 1983 Summer Universaide.
While raising her three children she switched to coaching and helped the Edmonton Fencing Club expand from 40 members in 1989 to more than 400 today.
When Beijing won the right to host the Games in 2001, Luan got suited up again, determined to fight for Canada in her homeland. At the age of 42, she represented Canada and competed in the individual foil in four world cup events in order to qualify for the 2008 Games.
The road to the Games wasn’t easy. Luan admitted last year that training for the Olympics was a lot harder than it used to be.
“Age is a big problem,” she said. “Almost nobody tries to qualify for Olympic sports at this age, especially women, and not after having three babies. Before I could run five miles no problem, now I’m lucky if I can run even half as far. Before I could do 200 lunges and the next day I was fine. Now my muscles are sore and it hurts and I have to take another day [to recover].”
It was her determination and passion for the sport that pushed her forward. And this morning she had a strong performance against 19-year-old Ines Boubakri of Tunisia, 13-9. It was definitely experience that helped Luan win her first bout in the Games. She shouted almost every time she won a point, savouring each moment against someone 31 years her junior.
A few hours later Luan was back on again, this time against Hungary’s Aide Mohamed. This time she was perhaps tired or frustrated. At times she shook her head or raised her hands wondering why she let her opponent win the point. Her coach tried to advise her and keep her focused.
The crowd rallied behind her, shouting her name, and clapping for her whenever she won a point. But it wasn’t enough and she lost 15-7.
Just before 2000, Luan was named one of China’s top 50 athletes of the previous 50 years. So it’s not surprising that as she walked off, people clapped for her, thrilled to see one of their sports idols make a courageous comeback.