It takes a lot of guts to take a gap-year during university, especially in Egypt, where maintaining a consistent track-record during one’s education is seen as a necessity for success. But that did not stop Mohamed Essam El-Din from breaking this taboo. Then again, he does have a very good reason to do so: Essam El-Din is preparing to participate in the 2016 Olympic Games happening in Rio de Janeiro in August in fencing.
The Egyptian champion started practising fencing when he was five years old and has been conquering the top of competitions and tournaments with his foil ever since.
Daily News Egypt sat down with Essam El-Din to learn more about the nature of the sport, its tournaments, and his plans for the current and the upcoming years.
Why did you choose fencing above any other sports?
I saw myself in this sport ever since I was five years old. Fencing consists of three weapons: the foil, sabre, and épée, and I really enjoyed, and still enjoy, playing the foil.
What role did your trainers play in your sports career?
My trainers had a great role. Aside from their technical approach, they made me fall in love with the sport. Coach Ahmed Hassan really comes to mind when I say this. My current trainer is Poland’s Adam Kaszubowski.
Did your academic career stand in the way of your sports career?
Of course, especially since I attended a governmental school. We all know that public schools here do not accommodate students who are professional sports players.
I had to set priorities and balance my studies and fencing. The sport usually gained most of my attention, but that did not mean that I slacked. I still got admitted to the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport.
How did your balance between sports and academia change during your time at university?
I concluded my sophomore year. Some professors are considerate regarding my situation as a sports player, and others are not.
Currently, I am taking a year off to train for my participation in the Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro. I have to adhere to strict training programs and preparation camps in order to excel.
What were your main achievements of 2015?
I ranked third in the individual foil’s competition at the 2015 All-Africa Games, which are also known as the Pan-African Games. The competition took place in Brazzaville, the Republic of the Congo.
In the same division, Egyptian Olympic champion Alaaeldin Abouelkassem won the gold medal, while second place was occupied by Algeria’s Roman Djilti.
In the same tournament, the Egyptian National Foil Team won the teams’ division.
In terms of the Fencing World Cup, we have five of them, in which each country is allowed to participate with 12 players. We also have three grand prix tournaments, and at the end of the season, the World Championship is held. This is the most important event, and each country participates with four players, each of who are granted points according to their performance.
In the World Cup last October in San Jose I was ranked 96 out of around 250 players. In the World Cup that took place in Tokyo in November 2015, I ranked in 22nd place. Two weeks later, in December 2015, I participated in a Grand Prix, which took place in Turin, Italy. I was ranked 34th.
I also won the National Championship in Egypt held in December 2015.
Are the three types of weapons included in one tournament during the National Championships?
The three weapons have separate world cups, and both national and international championships. What about your sports career in 2016? How does that look so far?
In January, the World Cup tournament was held in Paris. Unfortunately, I exited the tournament in the qualifying rounds. In the following month, I participated in the World Cup in Germany despite an ankle injury. I also exited in the qualifying rounds.
I rested for three weeks to recover, before participating in the Grand Prix in Cuba, held in March, and again, I exited in the qualifying rounds.
Afterwards, in April, I ranked tenth in the African Championship in Algeria.
In May, I ranked 99th at the World Cup, held in Saint Petersburg, and I won the National Championship. I was just at the Shanghai Grand Prix where I ranked 50th.
I can see that you go to training camps in France. Why France?
The Egyptian National Foil Team has two trainers – one from Poland and one from France. I also play for a club there called Aubervilliers, which is very advanced in the sport. The club is very diverse and includes players from Brazil and Italy
This club meets all the players’ need, so it is a great opportunity for me to train there.
How di the Egyptian National Foil Team qualified for the upcoming Olympic Games?
We were ranked first in the African zone. Internationally, we rank seventh.
How many Egyptian players across all fencing weapons are qualified for the Olympic Games?
Eight champions are qualified, including Mohamed Amer and Nada Hafez at sabre and Ayman Alaa at épée.
Representing the Egyptian National Foil Team in the Olympic Games, we are four: Alaaeldin Abouelkassem, Tarek Fouad, Mohamed Hamza, and myself.