Fencer Ota keen to compete in France, raise interest in sport

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Japanese fencing phenom Yuki Ota, who won the silver medal in the men’s foil in last summer’s Beijing Olympics, has entered a new challenging chapter in his fencing career.

The 23-year-old flew to France on Wednesday to participate in Saturday’s Fleuret Masters, in which the world’s best eight fencers are invited. He was also asked to help Aix-en-Provence, a powerhouse French club, compete in the quarterfinals of the French national championships on April 18.

Ota is the first Japanese to earn a fencing medal at the Olympics.

The Shiga Prefecture native spoke to The Japan Times in an exclusive interview on Tuesday before he took off for the home of the sport about his trip to France, his life after the Olympics and his future.

How do you describe your time after Beijing?

I really appreciated it and learned so many different things. I didn’t have any complaints.

Yet, as I won the medal, I got some change in my mind and struggled to motivate myself. I had a hard time to associate with that. But finally I’ve got the mind-set lately that I want to do it again. I have no problem now.

Including the opportunities that I was invited by the Masters, I feel like I have not been abandoned by the god of fencing.

So how excited are you about going to France?

I’m so excited. I don’t know what will happen at all, but I think that if I can play my own game, best results will follow.

Did you ever think about being invited by a French club up until recent months?

No, because Japanese fencers had not even been noticed by them. In that respect, we Japanese fencers have raised our profiles and I’m really pleased about this.

Did your medal affect it?

I believe so. If I didn’t have the medal, I wouldn’t have been invited like this.

What is the significance of a Japanese fencer going to France, the home of the sport?

I won’t be able to perform poorly because I carry a Hinomaru flag on my back, and I will be looked at as a Japanese, so I would like to take care to show the right attitude even when I am not competing, and when I am competing I would like to play fairly, not doing anything against the rules.

Do you want to absorb something new or show what you have developed in the past while you are over there?

Comparably, the latter, because I’ve had a certain length in my career, over 15 years. I will have ended up exhibiting what I’ve fostered.

(But) other than the game itself, there will be many things I can learn, such as what kind of model cases they are taking for development or what kind of things they are doing to spread fencing (in France).

It will be beneficial for me to bring back those things. It’s fun to learn what you don’t yet know.

What do you think is required to make the sport more popular?

We have to improve the level, first of all. We, as a whole, need to have better results.

And, if my activities like this time are to be recognized, the potential of fencing will be expanded. It’s impossible to make it like soccer and baseball, but we want to make it more popular among minor sports.

What are your objectives from now on?

Through the Fleuret Masters and Aix-en-Provence, I will enter the World Cup circuit. I’ve been told that I can win the tournament in Tokyo, so I want to win this time around. As for a greater goal, I see the London Olympics. Hopefully, I want to do my best in everything for that.

Is the London Games your ultimate goal as a fencer?

Yes, I think it will be a turning point. It will be a very important games.

Looking back, do you think that it wasn’t that bad to finish runnerup instead of winning the gold medal in Beijing?

Right. If I had won the gold medal, there may have been a possibility that I didn’t continue. But it’s the best for me to be a competitor, and it was a very good option to not choose retirement. I think it was a present that God gave me.

You look so fearless. You have no problem going to France?

No problem at all. I will enjoy it. But I get negative at the Olympics. I get nervous.

Are there similar nerves anywhere else? After all, you still won the silver medal.

No. You get a stomachache. I got lucky to some degree. It was like, all the luck fell and pushed my back.