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Wits fencer set to compete at 2024 Olympics

- Wits University

Engineering student Harry Saner qualifies as the first South African fencer to compete in nearly two decades.

Harry Saner

Harry Saner, a 23-year-old fencer from Johannesburg, is set to make history at the Paris 2024 Olympics, marking South Africa's first Olympic fencing appearance since 2008. Saner, who is part of Tyshler Fencing School celebrates this achievement not just with his team mates, but with Wits University and the whole country.

“My friends and family are ecstatic! Especially because they have been such a big part of my journey. This victory for me has been our whole community’s victory,” says Saner.

His journey to become a world class fencer started early in 2010 as a nine-year-old child.

“As a child I wanted to become a knight in shining armour,” says Saner. “As many kids do, I was fascinated by big castles and swords and after seeing jousting in full metal armour, I started horse riding. After I decided it (horse riding) was not for me, I begged my dad to start fencing.”

Soon after, Saner found a fencing club, which started him out on his road to the Olympics.

Despite having to balance his fencing career with his mechanical engineering studies at Wits University, as well as a part-time job at a lab, Saner’s determination never wavered.

“I’ve been focussing on my fencing, mostly. Overall, it’s been doing work as much as I can when I can, and focussing on either my fencing or my studying when I need to.”

Saner is the second fencer to actually qualify for the Olympics, since 2008. According to Daily Maverick, Juliana Barrett qualified for the 2016 Rio Games. However, she was denied her chance to take part in the Olympics, due to the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee’s (Sascoc) selection criteria.

"This is a huge personal achievement. It's a dream come true. It's what the little kid who started 14 years ago wanted, and it is so vindicating to know all this hard work paid off!"

Saner hopes his Olympic journey will inspire others. "I hope I'm inspiring a new generation of fencers in South Africa! I can't wait to see all the fencers who join from seeing me compete. I hope that some little kid out there sees me and sees themselves doing the same later in their life."

His message to aspiring athletes is clear: "Follow your dream! If you can find a place to start and you feel like you don't know what to do, do what you can. Fence how you can with who you can, and ask for help!"

Saner joins a long list of South African athletes preparing to compete from 26 July to 11 August 2024. "I'm going in with a medal-winning mentality. I want the sport to grow and for SA to do better and better, and I will be a big part of that."