Alaaeldin Abouelkassem, an engineering student who says his friends back home in Egypt make fun of him for being a fencer, won Africa’s first Olympic medal in the sport.
The 21-year-old eliminated world champion Andrea Cassara of Italy in the men’s foil yesterday before losing the gold-medal match 15-13 to Lei Sheng of China.
“There was no stress for me,” Abouelkassem told reporters at London’s ExCel Arena. “I’m from Africa and nobody thought I could win.”
His silver medal is an African first in a sport that has been contested in the Olympics since 1896, and for decades was dominated by European nations including Italy and Russia.
The 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) Abouelkassem beat Germany’s four- time world fencing champion Peter Joppich 15-10 and downed Cassara by the same score on the way to the final.
The Egyptian needed treatment for an arm injury while trailing 4-2 against Lei before rallying to lead 13-11. Lei eventually won the match to take China’s third gold medal in fencing since 1984.
Abouelkassem, who moved to Alexandria from his father’s native Algeria at age 4, said he was invited to take up fencing while at school. He joined a fencing club in the Egyptian city in which there were no adult fencers, he told reporters.
“My friends still make fun of me,” he said.
He became African foil champion this year, and was fifth at last year’s world championships. The previous best for African fencers at the Olympics was fourth place for Egypt’s foil team at the 1952 Games.
Abouelkassem, who has a Polish coach, said he is the only Egyptian fencer who gets a government grant that pays for him to train abroad, although he prefers to stay in Alexandria near his friends and family.
He said his first thoughts after winning were for his father, who died in a car accident three months ago and had hoped to see him win an Olympic medal.
“I still can’t believe it,” Abouelkassem said. “I hope not just my country but Africa is proud.”
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