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Alexandra Ndolo: My big dreams for fencing in Kenya



Alexandra Ndolo: My big dreams for fencing in Kenya

She breathed a sigh of relief as she stood in the competition hall during the World Fencing Championships held on July 15 to 23 last year in Cairo, Egypt.

Not because Alexandra Ndolo had won the only medal — a silver in Individual épée —  for Germany after she almost held off Korean Song Se-ra, losing 11-10 in the gripping final in the  combat sport that features sword fighting with three disciplines; foil, epee and babre.

But because the 36-year-old had realised her dream of eight years.

She had seen the Kenyan flag flying at the World Fencing Championships. This was the first time ever for that to happen on the big stage. For Ndolo, it was phenomenal; breathtaking and emotional.
Kenya was represented by  Isaac Wanyoike for the first time at the World Fencing Championships  held in Egypt last year.

Born to a Kenyan father, Donald Ndolo, and a Polish mother in Bayreuth, Germany, Ndolo visited Kenya in 2014 and had a vision to initiate the not so familiar sport in the country.

For a country that is famous for its world-beating athletes and prolific rugby players, Ndolo knew that she faced a huge challenge when it comes to fencing.

The history-making Ndolo is determined to change that script and perhaps win a medal for Kenya at the Olympics where athletics and boxing have been the country’s medal basket.

Ndolo, the 2017 European Championships silver medallist, has been involved in setting up fencing programmes in Kenya and is sourcing for equipment.

She achieved a huge milestone when Kenya Fencing Federation was formed in 2019 before the federation became affiliated to the National Olympic Committee of Kenya and the International Fencing Federation (FIE).

Mixed emotions

As the old adage goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. So for Ndolo, having a Kenyan representative at the global event is a major step.

“I had mixed emotions just standing there watching the Kenyan flag flying at the world championship yet I had won a medal for Germany,” said Ndolo.

After the competition, she travelled to Kenya for talks on how to make fencing bigger.

“That is when the thoughts of representing Kenya clouded my mind. I felt that having a champion in the system would help inspire a generation to take up the sport in Kenya….For once, I felt that this was the right time to make the move,” said Ndolo who hopes to represent Kenya at the  2024 Paris Olympic Games.

“Fencing has given me a lot. I have travelled around the world and met different people and experienced varying cultures. That is why after introducing the game in Kenya, my joining the team would make it even bigger,” said the  left-handed épée fencer.

Ndolo is overwhelmed by the support she has received not only from Kenya, but across the world. She officially informed the Germany federation in September last year that she would be competing for Kenya.

Ndolo said the German Fencing Federation understood her move, and was quite supportive.

“I grew up in Germany where I played fencing for 15 years under reliable and working systems. I loved every bit of it when I competed for the country, but it’s now time to give something back to my father’s country,” said Ndolo.

“I want to fly the Kenyan flag at the highest level possible and be the country’s ambassador in the sport. I believe Kenya has much more to offer in the world of sports and other fields than what the world thinks.”

She said that if Kenya invented the mobile phone money transfer, M-Pesa, then the country’s innovative minds are capable of doing even greater things.

“Kenyans are stronger than they think,” she said.

Ndolo represented Kenya for the first time during the Women’s Epee World Cup of Tallinn held on November 11-13 last year in Estonia where she finished 10th out of 275 competitors. The Epee World Cup is an International Fencing Federation event.

During the next leg of the World Cup Series held in Vancouver, Canada on December 8-12, Ndolo finished 36th out 192 contestants. She is now focusing on the next round of the Women’s Epee World Cup slated for February 10 to 12 in Barcelona, Spain.

“I made history as the first Kenyan woman to ever compete at any FIE event. When the Kenyan flag was raised high in the hall in Estonia, it was definitely an emotional moment,” said Ndolo.

“It’s was a great start to the new season for me.”

Ndolo, who is a member of FIE Athletes Commission also hopes to compete for Kenya at the Africa Fencing Championships at a date and venue to be announced, the 2023 World Fencing Championships in Milan and the 2026 Commonwealth Games in Victoria,  Australia.

The world fencing season begins in September through to July. Ndolo, who is ranked ninth in the world, hopes to compete in more world events so as to improve on her ranking and improve her chances of making it to the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“Besides looking for sponsors to facilitate my activities, the Kenya Fencing Federation will also need funding and support from the government and the corporate world. It’s a journey we must embark on together,” said Ndolo.

Strengthen systems

Despite switching her allegiance from Germany to Kenya, Ndolo — who had her highest ranking at number eight in the world during the 2016/2017 season — said that she will not relocate to Kenya yet. However, she is working to strengthen systems in the country first.

“I will be travelling in and out of the country to source for sponsorship for the federation and for other fencing activities,” she said.

Ndolo, who lives in Cologne, Germany, belongs to Bayer 04 Leverkusen Club under coach Hugo Dergal.
Before then, she took up track and field events, especially sprints and jumps, when she was five years old before embracing modern pentathlon at the age of nine.

Modern pentathlon is an Olympic sport consisting of fencing (one-touch épée), freestyle swimming, equestrian show jumping, pistol shooting, and cross country racing.

In 2007, Ndolo, 21, took up fencing, majoring in Epee events.

“Fencing training sessions have   various unique tactics. One needs precision and must stay alert. There is no time to blink,” said Ndolo, adding that in epee, the whole body is the target for attack unlike in foil where the torso is the only target and in sabre where the body above the waist is the target.

“In epee, you battle until you get a winner,” explained Ndolo, who represented Germany at the 2013 Summer Universiade held in Kazan, Russia before competing at four World Fencing Championships.

Ndolo reached the round of 16 at the 2015 Moscow World Fencing Championships. She improved her performance at the 2017 Leipzig, Germany championship where she reached the quarter-finals.

She made a breakthrough when she bagged silver after losing to Russian Violetta Kolobova in the women’s épée final at the 2017 European Fencing Championships held in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Most successful outing

Germany got three medals; gold, silver and bronze at the Georgia championship with Max Hartung getting gold in men’s sabre and the women’s team received bronze in the foil event.

Thereafter, Ndolo settled for bronze in her event at the 2019 European Fencing Championships held in Düsseldorf, Germany where the home country claimed four medals; gold, silver and two bronze.

Ndolo reached the quarter-finals of the European Fencing Championships held in June in Antalya, Turkey but her most successful outing was at the World Fencing Championships held in Cairo, Egypt last year where she got silver.

“Fencing has taught me to persevere, work hard and enjoy the sport. That is why I think I will fit in Kenya’s environment well, having dedicated 15 years to the sport,” said Ndolo, who was born on August 13, 1986.

Unfortunately, her father, Donald Ndolo, who hailed from Seme in Kisumu County passed away when she was only 10.

He moved to Poland to take a Masters Degree course, then relocated to Germany for his PhD. He spoke six languages fluently.

Ndolo, who loves travelling, music, and art, is doing a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Psychology in Cologne University of Applied Sciences in Germany. 

She took a course as a medical technical assistant at University Hospital Cologne between 2008 and 2011.

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