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Abdulaziz Al-Shatti – Fencing

The sport of fencing remains one of the most noble of Olympic sports – and is certainly one of the most dashing. Requiring the utmost concentration, fast reactions and lazer-sharp precision of cut, the difference between winning and losing can be measured in milli-seconds. Abdulaziz Al-Shatti was the sole Kuwaiti representative in Rio’s 2016 fencing competition – and the first Kuwaiti fencer in 16 years.

He knew the odds were stacked against him, but Abdulaziz Alshatti has beat long odds before, including the stunning first place finish at a qualifying event this year that punched his ticket to Rio de Janeiro.

The Kuwaiti rattled off a string of upsets in that April tournament, starting with a second-round win over Kazakhstan’s Elmir Alimzhanov, who placed 11th in London four years ago.

Even after going up 10-5 in three minutes – a blistering start for the cautious epee that he fences – he kept calm, he said, shutting out the noisy throng that gathered to watch. “For me to fence well I have to be very calm. If I play too angry, I’ll lose,” said the 26-year-old.

“My coach always says, ‘You need to get angry,’ but I hate to be aggressive. And I reached the Olympics because I know how to keep calm.” If he were more anxious, there would be plenty to worry him.

Organizers told him not to wear the fencing attire he brought with him, displaying Kuwaiti flags and other insignia. “I had to respect their rules. I wasn’t there to make trouble,” he said. “I play by the rules of my sport and let them worry about their rules.”

Coming out of nowhere brings some advantages, Abdulaziz said, given that no one had time to scout his strategy and style. “For all the others, I could go on YouTube and see how they play. For me they won’t have found any videos,” he said with a grin.

Because of that the national ban on sending a team, Abdulaziz’s only chance to earn a trip to Rio was a last-chance Asian qualifying event in April in which only the winner advanced. He took first in a stunning result, but he couldn’t match that performance in Brazil.

In Rio he had the backing of a small crowd that appeared to sympathize with his plight. But Hungary’s Andras Redli survived a furious late rally from the hard-charging and flamboyant Kuwaiti, winning 14-13 in epee.

Simon Balsom