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NCAA triumph in hand, Ohio State’s Zain Shaito sets sights of 2012 Olympics

There are many traits that could be used to describe sophomore fencer Zain Shaito, but complacency is not one of them. Shaito, who won individual and team titles at the NCAA Fencing National Championships, is pursuing his next goal – qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Shaito won the individual men’s foil championship to lead Ohio State to a 21-point victory in this year’s NCAA national championships. He was one of two individual champions for the Buckeyes, as sophomore Katarzyna Dabrowa won the title in women’s epee. This title was the fourth in program history for OSU, and the third under coach Vladimir Nazlymov.

Shaito described winning the individual and team championships as “an amazing feeling.”

His next step is attempting to qualify for the Olympics. He said he believes his chances of qualifying for the games are “very good.”

Shaito, whose father is Lebanese, will attempt to qualify for the Olympics representing Lebanon, even though he represented the U.S. in the World Championships. He will participate in the Asian and Oceanic Olympic Qualifiers in Wakayama, Japan, on April 20-21.

Shaito said his NCAA Championship victory has helped him build momentum for the Olympic qualifiers. He explained that winning a competition is “the best thing you can do to prepare for the next competition.”

Yury Molchan, who won a bronze medal in the men’s team foil competition in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, is OSU’s foil assistant coach. Shaito credits Molchan in helping him improve his game, saying that he is “taking everything (he) can from him.”

Molchan said he believes Shaito is an Olympic-caliber fencer and has a “huge chance” to qualify.

Qualifying for Lebanon as an Olympic athlete would be meaningful for Shaito, he said.

“To be able to stand there next to the (Lebanese) flag during the opening ceremony (of the games) would be such an honor,” he said.

Two of Zain Shaito’s younger sisters, Mai and Mona Shaito, are also members of the OSU fencing team. Like Zain Shaito, Mona Shaito will be attending Olympic qualifiers in Wakayama later this month, in an effort to qualify for the games as a Lebanese athlete.

Mona Shaito is only a 17-year-old freshman, but she finished third individually in women’s foil in the NCAA National Championships. Mona Shaito, who began fencing at the age of 9, said she “never dreamed of being in the Olympics” as a child. Eight years later, however, she is ready to pursue the Olympic dream alongside her brother.

Zain Shaito said even if he fails to qualify for the Olympic Games, he will be supporting his sister “150 percent” in her hopes to qualify.

“It would be even more amazing if (we) both qualify, for (our) family and for the country of Lebanon,” he said.

While Zain, Mai and Mona Shaito all acknowledged a sibling rivalry, they are supportive of one another. Mona Shaito said she was proud of her brother for winning the NCAA individual championship, and said, “he’s been (at OSU) longer than (her), and he deserves it.”

Zain Shaito’s sisters began fencing before him. He began his athletic career as a hockey player, but after breaking his arm in a hockey game, he said he decided to pick up fencing in an effort to rehabilitate his arm.

After discovering his talent for fencing, Zain Shaito decided to pursue fencing instead of hockey. Zain Shaito, who was playing hockey as a 14-year-old on a travel team with 17- and 18-year-olds, said he believes he was talented enough to play in the National Hockey League had he continued with the sport.

Zain Shaito ended his dream of becoming an NHL player years ago, but his dream of representing the nation of Lebanon in the 2012 Olympics in London is alive. Mona Shaito will compete in the women’s foil qualifying competition April 20, and Zain Shaito will attempt to qualify in men’s foil on April 21.

 

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