My Olympic Story: Mona Shaito

In March, Zain and Mona Shaito helped Ohio State to the NCAA championship in fencing. Just weeks later, the siblings qualified to represent Lebanon at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Read about Mona's journey into the sport and to London in today's BSB Olympic profile.

Previous editions:
Katie Bell (USA, diving)
Samantha Cheverton (Canada, swimming)
Roger Espinoza (Honduras, soccer)
Amanda Furrer (USA, rifle)
George Markovic (Serbia, swimming)

Mona Shaito comes from a fencing family, one that includes sister Mai and brother Zain, both of whom compete at Ohio State. Zain will also be taking part in the Olympics, making the two one of the few brother-sister combinations to take part. The Shaitos have dual citizenship between the U.S. and Lebanon but will be fencing for the home country of their father, Talal.

Hometown: Garland, Texas
Events: women's foil, July 28
How Qualified: Shaito won the foil championship at the Asian and Oceania qualifiers in April held in Wakayama, Japan, to earn the automatic berth into the Olympics.
Medal Chances: The women's field is headlined by Italy's Valentina Vezzali, who will carry the flag for her country and has won the last three gold medals in the event. As a bit of an unknown, Shaito will have to use the fact that she's a relative newcomer to the field to her advantage.
Ohio State Career: Shaito impressed this season, joining the Buckeye squad in January as a 17-year-old after graduating high school early. She earned first-team All-America honors after going 45-2 during the regular season in foil. She was just as good in the postseason, placing third at the Midwest Fencing Conference meet, winning an NCAA regional qualifier and then tying for third at the NCAA meet after posting the top score in the qualifying rounds.
In Her Own Words: "My mom (Kimberly) actually got us into fencing. She saw it a while ago but we weren't old enough when we were living back in Michigan. So when we moved to Texas, she saw an ad for it and we lived pretty close to it, so she put me and Mai into it, and Zain actually followed behind us because he was a hockey player. After he broke his arm in hockey, he came and watched us and he really liked it. It came to a point where he had to choose fencing or hockey, and he chose fencing, and then the rest of our younger sisters just followed.

"Did we get into it thinking about the Olympics? Oh my gosh, no. We just joined the sport because we needed something to do, just an activity. We had a lot of siblings and it's crazy around the house, so we just had to put somebody somewhere. My mom also knew about how fencing was offered in colleges so you could get scholarships. She first saw it in high school. They offered it at her school when she was in high school but they took it out. It worked out really well for us.

"Coming in as a freshman, it's really great to win the team national title my first year here at Ohio State. I came in a quarter late, and it's my first time training with them so it was really new, but it was really nice to win my first year coming in. I think it's great Zain won the NCAA title because he's been at it longer than me and he deserves it. He's been working hard. It's my first year. I was a freshman and have three more years so I have plenty of time to win the championship. He deserves it.

"We're really family oriented, so we decided if one of us were going to a school, then the next one is going to go. I was like, ‘OK, I'll just follow.' Ohio State is a great school. It has what I wanted to major in, it has everything I want to do. It's a big school and a big community, and I like it.

"It's definitely been great to be at the same place as Zain. He can be my coach because we're so familiar in fencing. We come from the same coach. We're both left-handed, so we can definitely coach each other and help each other out. It's great to have somebody you know supporting you.

"So far, we have three Ohio State Buckeyes. I think we'll just keep adding on because we have more sisters. We'll see. Mai has done really well, and then she took off for school. She was always more academically focused, but she's also really good at fencing. She didn't get to be a part of the championship team this year because the team is really hard to make, but she's really good also.

"Ever since I qualified for the Olympics I feel like people respect me more as an elite athlete. Especially since fencing is not a very popular sport, hearing that I am an Olympian, curiosity automatically arises and people become more interested. I do not think it will sink in that I am an Olympic athlete until I am in London. It feels surreal.

"I remember when I first qualified back in April I was thinking about how much time I had to train and let it sink in, but now it's unbelievable how the time has flown. Every day I wake up realizing we are a day closer and the butterflies in my stomach seem to continue growing!

"I have been to several camps since I qualified. After finishing the last quarter at Ohio State I went back home to Dallas and did a training camp with my original fencing coach, Volodymyr Yefimov, and many local fencers in Sherman, Texas. I immediately left Sherman to drive to Houston with Zain and trained at Salle Mauro Fencing Academy, which included some of the best fencers in the nation and world. After that camp I flew to California to train with the U.S. Olympic team, Canadian national team, a Columbian Olympian and some of the top junior fencers on the U.S. ranking list. Finally, my training journey is ending in Pisa, Italy, where I am training with the top junior Italians.

"I've visited Lebanon a lot but I've never lived there. Fencing is not big at all there, actually. It would be great if I can get other people involved because it's such a great sport. Soccer is really big there. They're kind of Europeanish. I'm hoping this will influence more people to fence. I could have tried to qualify for the U.S., but I went through the pros and cons, and I wanted to support another country and be a role model to influence others, so I decided to fence for Lebanon. It's a small country and the U.S. has so many other good fencers. To do it for a small country, I think it's better that way."

"I think that it means everything to (the people of Lebanon), having the Lebanon flag raised proudly in front of some of the best athletes in the world. It gives them a sense of pride knowing that these athletes are training so hard and doing the best they can to give Lebanon something huge like the Olympics to be a part of.

"Lebanon has treated our results with pride. My brother and I have been in numerous newspaper articles so I definitely think that it is a big story, but an even bigger one will be with medals of course. The greater the competition the more anxious I get, but I am also very excited to compete at the greatest competition with pride.

"Only my parents are attending London. If our whole family could go it would be amazing, but we are too big of a family so the expenses are too great. Competing with Zain will be a treasured memory, not just for me but my family as well. How many siblings get to compete together in the same Olympics?!

"I have never been to London besides in transit between airports. I want to try to watch different events with the extra time that I have after competing if it is possible, hopefully watch some of my Lebanese teammates. I would love to also go with my parents to Buckingham Palace and also see the famous guards that do not move.

"The way the format of the Olympics is does not allow you to clearly know who you will fence until probably a couple of days before the event so I am not quite sure who I am fencing yet, but I am just going to go out there and fence the best I can."

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