My Olympic Story: Zain Shaito

BSB's Olympic preview continues with the second Shaito sibling to qualify for the Summer Games in men's foil fencer Zain. Like his sister Mona, Zain will be representing the country of Lebanon, and he talks about how proud he is to do so and what it means to that country in this story.

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

Everything has been going right for Zain Shaito when it comes to fencing of late. In addition to qualifying for the Olympics, Shaito won the national title as a sophomore this March while helping lead Ohio State to the NCAA team crown. He will be going to London with his sister, Mona; more information on their relationship and on the Shaito family's ties to Ohio State and the sport of fencing can be found in her Olympic story, linked above.

Hometown: Richardson, Texas
Events: men's foil, July 31
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. He had to defeat Thailand's Nontapat Panchan, a 2008 Olympian, to qualify.
Medal Chances: Much like his sister, Zain must use the fact that he's a newcomer to the senior international scene to his advantage. Reigning champion Benjamin Kleibrink of Germany is in the field along with defending silver medalist Yuki Ota of Japan.
Ohio State Career: Shaito was named Ohio State's Male Athlete of the Year in 2011-12 after capturing the men's foil title at the NCAA championships. He downed Stanford's Turner Caldwell, 15-11, to do so. He led OSU foilists with 35 wins in 2012, finishing third in the Midwest Fencing Conference and first at an NCAA regional in addition to his national title. As a freshman the year prior, Shaito led the foil group with 40 victories and won the MFC title.
In His Own Words: "Winning the national championship at Ohio State was an amazing feeling. Overall, the most important thing was winning the team competition. That made our whole team happy, which made me very happy. After that, I had the confidence to go into the individual event and kick butt.

"I definitely have a rivalry with Mona. Every competition we go to, we're always competing who is going to get the higher result in each competition. So far, she's beating me, but I beat her at the NCAAs. I think it's always good to have family support wherever you go, and having it during your sporting career is fantastic.

"I've always been a fan of hockey. I've loved hockey my whole life since I was 8 years old. In one game I broke my arm. After I got my cast off, my mom told me that I should try fencing to rehab my arm faster, which made sense. My sisters had already been doing it, so I went one day. I picked up the weapon and was like, ‘This is pretty cool.' I love the individual aspect about the sport, and I love stabbing someone. That's pretty cool.

"In hockey, I was on a travel team competing with 17- and 18-year-olds. To be honest, I think I could have been in the NHL. Everyone thinks they're going to do that one day, but I had high expectations. Being a 14-year-old playing with 17- and 18-year-olds was a huge deal.

"I think after my coach told me that I had a talent for fencing and I could go a long way, I guess after my second year of fencing when I started to pump out results, basically the Olympic dream was set in my mind. I guess it's been ever since I was 16 years old.

"I think having my personal coach, Yury Molchan, here at Ohio State, he's definitely improved my game dramatically, especially my tactical game using his international experience. He's a bronze medalist at the Olympic Games (from Russia). I'm just taking everything I can from him and from the head coach (Vladimir Nazlymov). He's such a great teacher. He does everything right. I've learned such a great deal from him.

"Originally, I was on the U.S. team, and I represented them three times internationally, and I actually won junior world championships twice with them, but the funding and support wasn't there toward the end. I was given the opportunity to change and I had dual citizenship, and I knew representing a small country like Lebanon would mean the world to them.

"Qualifying for the Olympics has definitely been a life-changing event. My dream has always been to represent the United States on the biggest stage in sports, but there was a higher calling for representing Lebanon. Lebanon is a small country in the Middle East and my family there is very poor but very proud of their heritage, and so am I. I had a solid chance to represent the USA but since Arab Spring and everything that has been going on in the Middle East, I felt like Arabs have been getting a bad reputation.

"I'm proud of being an American Arab. There is so much to Lebanon and the people that no one ever talks about. It has been a country of nothing but civil wars and outside war. Through qualifying for the Olympics, I found a way to bring some light back to the country and the people. I found a way to show kids of Lebanon that they too can have a shot at doing something great. I'm an inspiration for the younger generation and the people living there and Arabs all over.

"To qualify with my sister was even a greater feeling. Now we both are the heroes of Lebanon and are setting a good path for the future of sports in Lebanon. It means the world to my family who don't really have TV or electricity in Lebanon whenever they see my name in the newspapers and people excited and talking about our results.

"My training has been intense and we're currently in Italy training with the Italian Olympic team. I think winning the NCAA individual national championship has set me up mentally and I feel confident in doing well in London. I will be a very young competitor but I will take this experience and fight hard for the best result and a good start in preparation for 2016 Olympics and beyond. My first match will be against a Chinese athlete. I've been studying him for a while.

"Lebanon is waiting for the two siblings to walk in the ceremony and stand behind the Lebanese flag that represents the pride of millions of people and years of war, death, rebuilding. That will all be erased for just a moment as they feel the proud of their athletes competing in the world's biggest event."


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