When Your Sports Trainer Is Also Your Mother

Sometimes the relationship between athlete and trainer goes even deeper than blood ties. So what happens when you mix family with competitive sports?

Family affair - Delila, Maor and Haim Hatuel fencing

Maor Hatuel
Profession: fencing
Age: 26
Outstanding achievements: silver medal in the European Youth Championships (Bulgaria 2005), eighth place in World Championships (France 2010)
Residence: Acre

Koby Kalmanovich

Haim Hatuel
Age: 62
Coaching since: 1979
Coaching Delila since: 1986
Coaching Maor since: 1992
Residence: Acre

Delila Hatuel
Profession: fencing
Age: 31
Outstanding achievements: reached the finals in the European Fencing Championships (2007, 2008), two silver medals in Grand Prix competitions in the World Cup round (China 2007, Poland 2008), participated in the 2008 Beijing Olympics
Residence: Kiryat Bialik

Israeli fencing has “belonged” to the Hatuel family since the mid-1970s, when Haim Hatuel, a demobilized soldier at the time, decided to start a fencing course in his hometown, Acre. His two outstanding proteges were his younger siblings, Yitzhak and Lydia. The former represented Israel at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, and two years later won second place at the European Championship in Paris; the latter has had a legendary 33-year career, including medals in world championships and three Olympic Games. Today Lydia is chairwoman of the Israel Fencing Association.

Koby Kalmanovich

Later Haim coached his talented nephew Kobi Hatuel, but like his uncle Yitzhak perhaps the most talented Israeli fencer of all times Kobi became involved with drugs, was imprisoned and forced to retire. In the past decade Haim has been devoting most of his energy to training his two children: Delila (31) and Maor (26).

“My children were born into fencing,” explains the father and coach. “I think they held fencing swords even before they knew how to crawl.”

Delila participated in the Beijing Olympics and was a candidate for a medal, but because she had been injured a few weeks beforehand, lost her first round.

“I traveled all the way to Beijing to see her,” says her younger brother Maor. “I bit my nails so much that I didn’t have any left. For me, the very fact that she reached the Olympics was a tremendous achievement, although it’s clear that without the injury she would have gotten much further.”

Koby Kalmanovich

It’s even more difficult for Delila to watch her brother lose. “It’s a nightmare for me,” she declares. “He was born when I was 5 years old. When he competes I’m more nervous than in my own competitions. When he wins it’s the most wonderful feeling, and when he loses I take it perhaps a little too hard.”

Maor, as opposed to his elder sister, has yet to compete in the Olympics. “I feel that without that my career will be lacking,” he says. “I still have a chance to get to London, but it will be very difficult. I have to end up in one of the first two places in two last-ditch competitions in the coming months. My sister has to fulfill exactly the same conditions to get to London.”

Koby Kalmanovich

They are Israel’s leading fencers, but fencing in this country, and even elsewhere, is not a sport that seems to win much glory.

“We sometimes joke around among ourselves and say maybe our entire family should have gone into tennis rather than fencing,” says Delila. “Had we been as outstanding at tennis as we are at fencing, we would be a family of multimillionaires.”

But they aren’t, she continues, which is why Delila, recently married, lives with her husband near Haifa and travels every morning to Tel Aviv to work in a real estate agency: “It’s not easy to combine work with all the practice and the travel, but that’s how we were raised at home: You fence and also do something else.”
Maor for his part is studying for a bachelor’s degree in computer sciences and biology at the University of Haifa. “It’s very important, the academic side along with the sports ... In both I feel I have to excel. That how we were brought up.”

Life in a family of outstanding fencers, and especially with a father who is such a strict coach, is not always easy.

Says Manor: “When I was a child, the other children in the fencing club thought I was being favored, because my father was the coach. That wasn’t at all true.”

But Haim Hatuel explains that distance is sometimes impossible to maintain: “Maor lives with me, so as opposed to all my other athletes, I see him outside the hours of training and competition. When Delila lived at home, too, I also always wanted to know what they were doing, where they were going, when they were coming home. They aren’t only my children, they’re also athletes, and people have high expectations of them.”

Delila claims she will educate her own children in the same way: “I definitely will direct them toward fencing. I won’t force them, but I’ll get them started at an early age because I think it’s a wonderful sport. In general, sports help a person in so many areas. It’s hard for me to imagine my life without fencing, and that’s also why I can’t say when I’ll retire. My Aunt Lydia fenced almost until the age of 40.”

Maor: “Even if I don’t get to the London Olympics, I’ll probably try to get to the next Olympics. Fencing is a way of life. It’s not always easy. Because when you’re born into the Hatuel family, there are already expectations of you at an early age, that you’ll get to the top. But every one of us in the family had such expectations.”

More from this series:

Father figure
Mates on the mat
Catch the wind
Pooling resources