March 9, 2016
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Women's foilists Eleanor Harvey and Mona Shaito are currently in the running to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A complex system of points, the two Buckeyes look to garner a spot to compete for their respective zones.
Harvey, a native of Hamilton, Ontario, is vying for one of two spots in the American zone and hoping to qualify for her first Olympics. Shaito, from Garland, Texas, is looking to secure one of two selections in the Asian zone as she is a dual citizen of the United States and Lebanon. Shaito is attempting to become a two-time Olympian after competing in the 2012 London Olympics.
Q: What's it like to juggle classwork, NCAA and international competition?
EH: It's very stressful sometimes. Most of the people we're fencing against are full-time athletes, or they're really supported by their federation. We're kind of at a disadvantage as student-athletes at international competitions because we're doing both. Most people aren't doing both.
MS: You have to know how to balance traveling and studying. You end up taking a lot of online classes so that you don't miss class as much. You have to make a good relationship with your professors whereas other people don't even really have to talk them. You have to make sure you're doing well enough in your classes to the point where your professors will be okay with you leaving.
Q: How is international competition different from university competition?
EH: It's very different. For one, it's a completely different format. We have direct eliminations to even make the second day whereas in college fencing, it's mostly just pools with five hits. In international competition, when you fence it's more intense. You have more energy because everyone is concentrating on those couple bouts whereas in college it's more endurance.
Q: Which one do you prefer?
MS: International. It's individual so you can concentrate. You're not losing for your team, you're losing for yourself and that's a lot easier sometimes. For team, you feel like you let down a lot of people whereas in international, you let down yourself and you can get over it.
Q: How do you prepare for something like the Olympics?
MS: I really don't think that you do anything besides cross-train for endurance. You definitely want to be at your best in conditioning. Even then, you don't fence as many matches at the Olympics. If you wanted to get to the top, you'd fence at the most six 15-touch bouts which is nothing compared to what we normally fence. It's more mental. You have to be ready for the stress, anxiety and things like that.
EH: Some people are just going to collapse because they're not going to be able to handle the pressure. Visualization is important because you walk out there and there's a huge crowd. A lot of people, especially if it's their first time, don't know what to expect when they're walking out there. If I do qualify, I feel lucky that I've been able to go to Pan-Am Games, World Championships, and things like that where I'm able to experience it.
Q: How important are your parents, your coaches, and the rest of your support system?
MS: Your family is obviously your number one support. Our families have been there since we started fencing when we were 12. For them to be there all the way means a lot to both of us and especially the coaches. The coaches have helped a lot and Ohio State, too. We have conditioning here, and we'll be pretty much prepped by the Olympics with all the conditioning that we've been doing.
Q: Are you able to experience the places you travel to or is it all business?
EH: It depends. Longer competitions like World Championships, you're there for a week, so yeah, you are able to. World Cups, not as much - you usually get there the day before.
MS: It really just depends on how long you stay. I'm sure Olympic year is nice because you can take off pretty much that whole week and a lot of people train and then you can go to the competition so it's nice. But with school, there's no way.
Q: What's the coolest place you been to for fencing?
EH: Chile was my favorite.
MS: It's so hard to choose. I fence in the Asian zone, and I really liked Mongolia. No one really gets to go to Mongolia for your every day trip. It was really cool and an awesome place with a lot of rich history.
Q: Mona, what's it like to prepare for a second time? Is it different?
MS: It's way different. It's a lot more stressful. I feel like when you've been there once, you're almost expected to go again. When I was qualifying the first time, I really had nothing to lose. You fence your hardest and there's a different mentality. You put everything you have and all your motivation and determination into it. For me it's more mental. I have to make sure I'm fencing just as well as I was last time. In my fencing, I question myself a lot. So it's a lot harder. It's been a really stressful year.
EH: I agree -- I feel like I have nothing to lose. I just went into the year like "let's see what's going to happen" because I didn't know. I wasn't planning on it. I started doing well and I was like "Okay, I think I can do this." I've set myself up with a pretty good position.
Q: How does your experience with OSU help you?
MS: We get to fence so much. With NCAAs, you fence so many people and that's part of the reason I came back. I graduated and I came back because Eleanor and Alanna [Goldie] were here and they're both strong competitors and teammates. The intensity we have here is a lot different than back home. We have more motivation because all year people are going to competitions so you're training with a really tough team. We have a very strong foil team. Plus, the resources we get help. The conditioning, the training facility -- we wouldn't get that at home. Ohio State has so many resources we can use to prepare ourselves for the Olympics.
EH: Especially for me, being from Canada, it was either basically stay in Canada and not get that much better or come here and try to get better. I think it's helped quite a bit overall.
Q: What have you learned from your journey?
MS: I've learned that I can take a lot of stress. I didn't realize how much stress I could take until I started fencing. Since I entered college, it's been a whirlwind. It's an insane amount of stress with NCAAs and the Olympics. I think it's helped me learn to balance stress and work with having fun.
EH: This year has been definitely a confidence booster. Whenever I used to go to competitions, I felt like I didn't quite belong. I felt like everyone was better than me. I go onto the strip now and I feel like I can beat whoever is standing there. It doesn't matter who they are. Moving on from this year, it's definitely a confidence booster.
The last competition for Olympic qualification takes place this weekend in Havana, Cuba from March 11-13. Eleanor Harvey and Mona Shaito are unable to attend as they will be competing in the NCAA Midwest Regional on March 12 in Columbus, Ohio. The final qualifiers for Rio 2016 will be announced in April.
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