Radford and teammates in last shot for Rio Olympics

Published 7 April 2016 (AEDT)

Kristian Radford © Kristian Radford

FENCING: A chance encounter with a fencing coach in his first year of high school has led Kristian Radford full circle, with the now high school teacher himself out to secure a spot at the Rio Olympic Games next week.

Radford will be one of six Australians fighting for qualification at the Asia-Oceania Zone Olympic qualifying competition in Wuxi, China from Monday.

For the Melbourne based athlete, and his Australian teammates, it will be their final chance to secure a spot at this year’s Games. The winner of the men’s foil, men's and women's épée and the women's sabre will win their way to Rio, while the top three of the women's foil and men's sabre will claim an Olympic spot. 

For 26-year-old Radford, a men’s épée fencer currently ranked around 220 in the world, it will be a tough task. But only competitors coming from countries where no fencer has qualified for Rio will be at the qualification event.

“I’m certainly not the favourite. There will be around 20 people in my event vying for the one spot. The highest ranked person would be about 25th in the world,” he said.

“At the same time I have fenced a lot of them before and I know what I’m up against.”

Radford took up the sport 15 years ago in Adelaide.

“I was lucky they offered the sport at school. There was a teacher who taught at five schools and he came to our school one day of the week. He ended up being my coach for seven years and we still keep in touch.”

Now a teacher at high school himself, Radford combines his love of the sport and his Olympic dream with teaching year 11 and 12 english and maths at a public school in Melbourne.

“The Olympics is like a fantasy, but you can see it’s almost within reach.

“If I did manage to qualify I think it would be beyond what I had ever hoped for.”

He expects it to be a different feeling to the two World Championships he has been to, where there’s often 200 people in an event.

“It’s the crazy thing about the Olympics is that they narrow it down to only around 35. There’ll be plenty of strong accomplished fencers who won’t qualify for Rio.”

He expects to have to win multiple matches to earn a spot.

“The event will likely start with a pool round, the group stage and then there’ll be elimination matches and then you’ll probably need to win four matches to be the last person standing.”

Australian Fencing Federation Director and dual Olympian Evelyn Halls is confident of a strong showing from the Australian team.

“The competition is definitely going to be tough – however, our team has a great blend of youth and experience and they will put everything on the line to chase their Olympic dream.”

Asked what it would be like to pull on the green and gold tracksuit at Rio if he makes it, Radford is almost left speechless.

“I can’t even imagine. To have the legends of Australian sport who have been before and then grow up watching it on television and reading it in the newspaper. It would be amazing.”

While it will be a daunting competition, Radford won’t be alone.

“There were four or five of us competing for the same spot at this competition and I’m thankful those guys will all be there cheering me on, as we’re going to the Asian Championships straight after. Plus there’ll be the other Aussies competing and their national coach.”

He said there’s a great sense of pride within the Australian fencing team.

“We love getting behind the other Aussies. Other countries are often bemused.”

The Asia-Oceania Zone Olympic qualifying competition in Wuxi, China runs from April 11-12.

Full Australian team list:
Men’s foil: Lucas Webber
Women’s foil: Alicia Kwag
Men’s épée: Kristian Radford
Women’s épée: Jo Halls
Men’s sabre: Jasper Rowley
Women’s sabre: Helen Phillips

ANNIE KEARNEY
olympics.com.au

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