Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

City fencer takes stab at nation's best

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Alison SMITH is making the most of the pot of gold that has dropped into her lap from Montreal. The Manitoba fencer has been training all month with the Canadian national foil team and it hasn't cost her a cent."Before, I've always had to travel to Montreal to train with them," said the soon-to-be Kelvin High School graduate. "I am not actually on the team, but they let me train with them as a favour from Ayach (Bounachada, provincial and acting national team coach)."

Bounachada says that Smith has what it takes to crack the national team in two or three years. "She has a lot of skills, and it depends on the time she puts into training and competitions. If she is willing to do that, for sure she will be on the national team within the next two years.

"She is very fit, strong, fast, well co-ordinated. She has excellent technique and she is improving. With more training and experience in competition then she can make the team easy, easy, easy."

"Having them (the national team) here is great, it really helps to fence girls," said Smith, whose only competition in Winnipeg is against men. "At the moment, I believe I am one of the two women's foilists in Manitoba who are on the provincial team. The other one, Mackenzie Sarvis, is nine years old."

Provincially, Smith is ranked second in the junior mixed foil, right behind her boyfriend, Adrien Dessens, who she met through fencing. "I'd never be able to have a relationship for very long without him being here," she said. "I train every night almost, so if he wasn't fencing too, it would be pretty difficult." At the recent Golden Boy provincial championships, she finished second in the junior mixed foil, behind -- who else? -- Dessens.

The national team, which consists of Annie-Claude Therrien (Quebec), Monica Kwan (B.C.), Shannon Comerford (Saskatchewan), Kalleigh Ryan (Ontario) and Eliana Parvu (Quebec), wound up in Winnipeg when national team coach Dominique Tesseiere resigned abruptly.

"They (Fencing Canada) asked me to take the national team," said Bounachada, "but I would have to move to Montreal, so I said no, I prefer working here in Winnipeg, I have a really good group here to develop. So they decided to move the team to Winnipeg until the Pan Am championships in the beginning of July in Dallas. I will train them until they find another coach."

A bit of a tomboy at heart, Smith says she got into fencing while watching the 2004 Athens Olympics.

"Sherraine (Schalm) McKay was fencing, and I thought it looked really cool. It was really intense. You could see them working so hard, with so much emotion, and it just seemed like such a cool idea. I mean, sword-fighting? I've always been the little girl who played with sticks and stuff."

Smith's immediate goal is to compete at the world championships one day. "I think it would be a fantastic experience to fence with hundreds of girls, and be on TV, well in Europe at least, and stuff. I don't really have ambitions for the Olympics right now. It is just so far away that I can't even think about it."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 13, 2009 D9

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