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War-ravaged Syrian fencer cuts a lonely figure at Youth Olympic Games

August 19, 2014 13:21 IST

War-ravaged Syrian fencer cuts a lonely figure at Youth Olympic Games

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Syrian fencer Mohammad Shaheen has cut a lonely figure at the Youth Olympic Games. With no coach to talk tactics with, or fencing team mates to lift his spirits, Shaheen lost all of his epee bouts and made an early exit from Nanjing.

Medals were never his target, though.

Shaheen said his team's goal in China was to fly the flag for Syria, which is mired in a civil war that has killed 170,000 people since 2011.

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Image: Image used here for representational purposes only
Photographs: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images for Beazley

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'I think Syria is still good'

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"If I just come from here without any result, I think Syria is still good,” he said. “Our athletes wanted to show the world that Syria is here.”

The 17-year-old said the war had made it extremely difficult for him to develop his fencing skills. The fighting had robbed him of a coach and bombs had wrecked his training facilities.

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Image: A girl wearing a pink scarf flees with her family from shelling in the al-Masir area in Aleppo
Photographs: Muzaffar Salman/Reuters
Tags: Syria

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'He left because of the war'

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“I had a coach from Tunisia. He made me a good fencer, but he left because of the war,” said Shaheen. “Because of the war, it’s not safe for him. But I am Syrian. I think I should be there because that is my country.”

Shaheen says he has got used to going it alone.

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Image: Girls queue to buy bread at the only bakery serving the outskirts of Idlib province
Photographs: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

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'I am like this, alone'

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“For two years I am like this, alone, no coach coming with me,” he added. “Nanjing, no coach. Kuwait championships, no coach. World championships, also no coach."

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Image: Fencers spar as coach looks on (Image used here for representational purposes only)
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

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'Medals don't matter to me'

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Shaheen lost all six of his epee pool bouts, and then was beaten by eventual silver medallist Linus Islas Flygare of Sweden in the last 16.

“The medals don’t matter to me, but I want to be a champion. It’s not easy for good fencers to beat me,” he said. “Right now I’m losing, but I think that maybe, I hope, I will be better after a few years.”

Patrik Esztergalyos of Hungary won the gold medal.


Image: Image used here for representational purposes only
Photographs: Tom Dulat/Getty Images for Beazley

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