The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Elisabetta Keeps Her Foils On Point

Italian Olympic champion currently in Kenya tells her story after London Games glory:

Elisabetta di Francisca gold medal win in fencing at the London Olympics was the culmination of 23 years of hard work for the Italian foil fencer. The tall, beautiful Italian has revealed she started fencing at the age of seven at a place called Jesi near Ancona.

"Fencing is something that has grown in me and I love it very much" Di Francisca says. While fencing is largely alien to the African scope of what can be regarded as sport, the exception being South Africa who have competed at the Olympics (Athens and Beijing) and world championships at both youth, senior and veteran levels, it is a sport of choice for the aristocrats in old Europe. They continue to dominate international championships.

Elisabetta is no exception. She admits she did not have success in her early years but she never gave up hope of winning. Di Francesca's stature grew after winning the foil category at the world championships in Paris in 2010. "That for me was the breakthrough I needed. I was delighted to win my first world title," she says.

She followed that with another medal in the World Cup series in 2011 to put her in a strong position for the Italian team going to the London Olympics. "It just kept on getting better and better and I was really looking forward to the Olympics," she adds.

Come the London Games and Di Francisca did not disappoint, prancing her way to the Foil category gold. "It was perhaps the best moment of my career I was delighted and happy for myself and Italy to win the gold and its something I will never forget in my life."

Di Francisca received a heroeic return to Italy after the Games. "I was surprised but delighted to see so many people at he airport waving at me and celebrating our team's return. It was a fantastic experience," she adds.

Di Francisca says the sport is very competitive in Europe with Belarus, Germany, France, Russia and Italy the top nations. She finds Russians the toughest opponents.

"The Russians are always the team to beat in any competition. They have a good pedigree in the sport," she confesses. Elisabetta hopes to compete at the Rio Olympic Games in 2016 to defend her title.

Presently Di Francisca is in Kenya on a humanitarian mission, inspecting charity projects run by Italian NGO Intervita. They deal with issues like education and health. Some of the projects she was due to visit are carried out in Nyanza, Kibera, and Mathare slums amongst others.

She has visited Narok to combat worms and has also met Charles Asati a member of the 4x400 track relay gold medal winner from the 1972 Olympic Games.

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