AS OLYMPICS LOOM, SAMANDI REFLECTS ON THE JOURNEY
Written by Abby Deveney
Mohamed Rayan Samandi has roamed from his home country and continent to France, England and fencing halls far and wide in his bid to be the best. The journey hasn’t been easy, but it has been successful.
The Tunisian foilist will soon be kitting up at the summer Olympics in Japan, returning to competition he knows so well.
But Samandi, a two-time African men’s foil champion, is more than an Olympian – he is a familiar face in the ZFW fencing salle. Samandi has been fine-tuning his technique with the help of ZFW founder and head coach Ziemek Wojciechowski in London, all the while juggling full-time professional duties. Now, Samandi, 34, has stepped away briefly from his software engineering job to put all he's got into a world-class performance at the Makuhari Messe venue in Tokyo’s eastern suburbs.
Samandi has been working with the Maestro for four years. French-Tunisian, he is associated with ZFW and the Bourg-la-Reine fencing club in France. As the Olympics approach, Samandi reflects on his lessons with Ziemek in this way: “It is amazing coaching with one of the best in the world who has incredible technique. I enjoy lessons with Ziemek so much. They are realistic and practical.”
Samandi, who is from the town of Bizerte, north of the capital Tunis, says financing training and the international travel and competitions required to achieve Olympic qualification have been among his greatest hurdles. While Tunisia’s national Olympic committee will cover the cost of Tokyo, he has paid the bills in the run-up to that success. “I have a serious lack of funding where the Tunisian federation pays only for basic needs,” with no private sponsorship, he says.
He enters the Games 37th in the world on the FIE senior men’s foil rankings. “Balancing between my professional life as a software engineer and my sport life has been my main challenge,” says Samandi, who speaks Arabic, French and English and has been living in London for five years. He is keenly aware of the need to maintain his fencing at a competitive level with a focus on staying strong to avoid injuries, noting that two past injuries kept him away from training for several months.
Like many of ZFW’s warriors, Samandi started fencing young, at school in Tunisia at the age of 10. “I used to watch Zorro when I was young and the Three Musketeers.” Drawn to a combat sport with no direct contact, he quickly joined a fencing club. “The atmosphere was very competitive, which helped me to improve quickly. I was lucky to have an amazing Russian coach when I was young.” He comes from something of a fencing family. His sister and his twin brother have also represented Tunisia in the sport.
The mental aspects of fencing are a lure, he says. “It is aggressive, strategic and strong at the same time.” Samandi enjoys the coaches and competitors almost as much as the game itself. “The fencing community is cultured and educated. We share not only the passion of the sport; we also learn from each other. We are like a small family.”
Maestro Wojciechowski said Samandi is a seasoned competitor who understands what is required of top-flight athletes. “Mohamed Samandi is an experienced Olympian who will certainly raise his game for the occasion! His aggressively defensive style can contribute to that.” Great Britain will be represented in the summer Games by men’s foilist Marcus Mepstead.
Samandi says ZFW “is an amazing environment in which to thrive and train without stress.” Come for the excellence of the coaching, certainly. Stay for the club comradery.
The Olympic men’s individual foil will be staged in Japan on Monday July 26, starting with the round of 64 at 9am Tokyo time. It will carry on throughout the day, culminating in the evening with the semi-finals, the gold-medal bout and the victory ceremony. https://olympics.com/tokyo-2020/en/schedule/fencing-schedule