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Olga Kharlan: Fencing's Tactical Maestro & Inspirational Journey



Ukrainian Olga Kharlan warmed up for what could be her last Games this summer with European Fencing Championships team silver last week alongside compatriots Yuliya Bakastova, Alina Komashchuk and Olena Kravatska as we look back at why she became one of fencing's tactical greats. Here is all you need to know:


After studying as a dancer, Kharlan started fencing aged 10 in Mykolayiv, Ukraine, under the guidance of her godfather - a fencing coach who prepared her for the crucial rapid decision-making needed in the cut and thrust of the sport.


Kharlan, who featured in the 2021 Ukrainian version of the TV show 'Dancing with the Stars', explained: "When you're in the rhythm of music, it's similar to the rhythm of fencing, the rhythm of a partner to the rhythm of an opponent. Sometimes you can see some dancing moves in fencing, too."


Aged just 14, Kharlan used her first prize money to help her family by paying off debts and buying a television which highlights her deep familial ties and sense of responsibility to others.


Her big breakthrough on the international scene arrived at the 2008 Games where the then teenager helped win Team Sabre gold for Ukraine in China before going on to win Individual Sabre bronze in London four years later.


With her fast becoming known as fencing's rising global star, Kharlan earned World Individual Sabre Gold Medals at the 2013 Budapest and 2014 Kazan editions before 2016 Games silver and bronze medals in Brazil.


She declared: "Fencing's like chess at 200kph while dressed as an astronaut. It's very high level tactically and very fast, especially in sabre – we just don't have any time."


Further World and European Sabre golds have followed leading into last week's 2024 European Championships in Basel where she bounced back from an early Individual Sabre defeat to help run champions France close in Team Sabre.


Her success has seen her been crowned Female Athlete of the Year at the Ukrainian Heroes of Sport Awards multiple times as well as being awarded the prestigious Orders of Princess Olga and Orders for Merit in Ukraine.


She has faced adversity along the way with a comeback from shoulder surgery after Rio in 2016 and - aided by media appearances in films and music videos - wants to make fencing more understandable and accessible to children with increased TV and YouTube coverage.


Her snowboard prowess has also been beneficial for her fencing balance and knee work, while she was chosen as the inspiration for a fencer doll as part of the Barbie Role Models project in 2020.


Kharlan, who counts her parents and American fencer Mariel Zagunis as her role models, revealed: "As a little girl, I always dreamed of having a Barbie doll [of herself] and I had one, like most girls. But I couldn't imagine that someday, I would become a Barbie doll myself."


Whatever the result in France in late July and early August under the guidance of coaches Andrea Terenzio and Yevgeniy Statsenko, the right-handed sabre phenomenon Kharlan has fashioned a brilliant career which will inspire fencers just like her Italian husband Luigi Samele, who also has an impressive medal collection of his own in men's sabre.


Magnanimous to the last, Kharlan said: "I always treat my rivals with respect. Before we go out onto the piste, we can be friends, talk, and on the strip we fight to the last, to show who is stronger."


By ML Staff. Content/Image courtesy of RedBull


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