As one of the top up-and-coming fencers in the United States, Zain Shaito has long had his sights set on the 2012 Olympics.
|Zain Shaito is headed for the 2012 London Olympics for fencing this summer.|
“After my last title win me and my cousin were celebrating at a restaurant, and we were watching TV, talking about politics in Lebanon and how everyone was fighting, and that's when I joked, 'What if I repped Lebanon in the Olympics,'” Shaito, a Lebanese American, said.
The conversation soon turned more serious, as did Shaito's training, and now, he's achieved his goal and will represent Lebanon in 2012 London Olympics.
Shaito's had many reasons for trying out for Team Lebanon, but being a role model and a source of pride for the country were the driving factors.
“I was telling my cousin, I bet seeing me in the Olympics would bring people together as a whole, religious and government-wise, people could stop fighting and just watch one guy representing all of Lebanon,” he said.
“Whenever someone gets famous they drop politics, look at them as an icon and support them; that's my dream, to let people come together and make them proud.”
The tall (6-foot-1), athletic Shaito likely wouldn't have had the chance to represent Lebanon in the world's top sporting competition if not for his sister Mona, however, who also happens to be an Olympic competitor in fencing for Lebanon in 2012, making it two from the same family.
Mona Shaito was the trailblazer, beginning at a free class in Texas. Her mother encouraged Mona to take a free class in Texas in the year 2000.
“I loved it,” Mona said, simply and honestly, soon after joining.
A broken arm suffered by her brother in hockey eventually led him to switch sports and follow in Mona's footsteps, as he could fence with just one hand. Soon, Zain's friends began recognizing what they thought was an entertaining sport, and eventually an obsession was born for both siblings.
|.. and his sister Mona as well.|
Mona Shaito, just a freshman, qualified for the Olympics by winning in women’s foil at the Asian and Oceanic Olympic Qualifiers in Wakayama, Japan, April 20. Her brother Zain, only a sophomore, also won the men's foil to win an Olympic spot, and also won the 2012 NCAA individual championship.
Both are dual citizens of the U.S. and Lebanon.
Mona, who's only 5-foot-2 but brings incredible quickness and sharp footwork to the table as a fencer, vividly remembers the way she felt after qualifying for the Olympics.
“I think I was shocked, that was probably the number one emotion,” she said. She was especially surprised by making it to the same Olympic competition as her brother.
“It was a dream come true I honestly never imagined would happen, especially at the same time going to the Olympic qualifiers, I never imagined it.”
Mona, like her brother, hopes she will have a strong showing and perhaps win a medal in order to increase awareness of the sport in Lebanon, and sports in general. Both want to encourage the development of sports in the country and give the youth examples for chasing their own dreams.
Zain, who has been winning top tournaments for many years, believes he has a real chance at bringing home a medal, and says that grace under pressure will be perhaps the number one factor for succeeding on the big stage.
Both are also appreciative of the support given by their families, teachers and coaches at the Fencing Institute of Texas, as well as Vladimir Yesimov, the professional Russian coach who has worked with them since they were children. Yesimov will not be able to coach due to extenuating circumstances but he will travel to London to root on Mona and Zain. Another well-respected coach, Egyptian professional Amgad Badawi, will perform the coaching duties in London this summer.
Chaaban feels confident that they'll make not only continue to make their family back home proud, but also their new fans in Lebanon.
“After what Zain and Mona did, they are going to take another look at sports in Lebanon, they'll notice them and this will encourage the new generation to take another look,” he said.
“They could have a long time effect on the new generation of Lebanese athletics, and double and triple their love for the game and sports in general; they're going to be great symbols for Lebanon.”