Ota regains focus to win

by Kaz Nagatsuka

After earning a silver medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, foil fencer Yuki Ota said he struggled to elevate his motivation level.

Now, several months later, the 23-year-old is ready to resume his promising career.

Ota was invited by French club Aix-en-Provence to participate in the 2009 French national championships, his management company said last week.

Aix-en-Provence is one of France’s top clubs, but it has failed to win a team title at nationals. The club, which was established in 1962, hopes to grab its first title this year.

To improve its chances, Aix-en-Provence has added Ota to a team that already features a pair of national team fencers, including Erwann Le Pechoux, who helped the French national team capture gold medals in team competitions at three straight world championships (2005-07).

On Saturday, Ota will also compete in the Fleuret Masters (Master de Fleuret). In this elite competition, eight of the world’s top foil (fleuret in French) fencers were invited, including Le Pechoux and Beijing Games gold medalist Benjamin Kleibrink of Germany.

Ota will become the first Japanese to participate in both tournaments.

The Shiga Prefecture native has admired Le Pechoux for many years. And after the Beijing Games, the Frenchman asked Ota to be his teammate at the French nationals.

“Competing in Europe has been one of my dreams, so I was so glad,” Ota said with a smile during a Tokyo news conference on Tuesday, one day before departing for France.

Ota appeared so vigorous in front of an estimated 100 media members. It may not have been because he received such a unique opportunity in his chosen sport, but because he has the opportunity to regain his passion for the sport.

“After the Beijing Olympics was over, I struggled to find motivation,” Ota said. “(But) I received this offer and it became motivation for me.”

After Saturday’s Fleuret Masters in Melun, France, Ota is scheduled to train in various places, including the French National Institute of Sport and Physical Education (INSEP), and also study the French language, starting next Monday.

Ota, a two-time Olympian and two-time national champion, will then compete in the quarterfinals of the French national championships as a member of Aix-en-Provence on April 18, before returning to Japan on April 21.

In May, he will participate on the World Cup circuit, including at Tokyo’s Komazawa Gymnasium from May 8-10.

If Aix-en-Provence wins in the national quarterfinals, he will fly to France to compete in the semifinals and possibly in the final on June 21.

Ota said that he doesn’t just want to absorb fencing techniques in France, but also hopes to learn how foreign fencers think about the sport.

Ota, who now works for food and confectionery maker Morinaga Co. & Ltd., believes this experience in France will help him grow as a person and as an athlete.

In addition, be feels this trip will give him a boost to fulfill another dream he has yet to attain: winning the gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics.

“I think this will be a good opportunity for me to bring back my ardent love,” he said.