Fencing / Living by the Sword

Genes practically determined Maor Hatuel's sporting career.

Sometimes, when the babysitter blows you off and the day care teacher is sick, you have no choice but to take your child to work. So it was, often, for young Maor Hatuel, who from the age of two got a peek of his father Haim's profession. There were no documents, printers or chairs in this office, but instead fighters in strange outfits passionately trying to stab each other.

Recalling his time in the crib watching his father in the Acre fencing club, Hatuel says with a laugh, "He was my babysitter."

sword - Hagai Frid - November 4 2010
Hagai Frid

The 24-year old told Haaretz over the weekend, ahead of this week's World Championships in Paris which start today, that from that point on he knew that some day he would be a fencer, too. Although his father said he could only start in third grade, he pushed to begin a year earlier.

The Hatuel fencing genes did not bypass Maor. Like his successful aunt Lydia and his talented sister Delilah, he quickly took to his foil. He won a silver medal in the European Youth Championships at age 19 and was on track for the Olympics but sidelined his fencing career when he was accepted into the elite Israel Air Force pilots' training course. Six months later he was bounced from the course and landed back in fencing.

"The long hiatus knocked me off balance but helped me mentally," says Hatuel. "I withstood a lot of pressure." After dealing with air force officers, he says it was easier to take in his father as a coach, though sometimes this new relationship generates ambivalent feelings. "When I do well it motivates me, but failures discourage me," he says. "Understand that I go everyday to train in the same place as my aunt, uncle and two sisters did, and I'm still trying to distinguish myself, to rise above the family successes and present something different."

Maor is particularly close to Delilah, 30. When she tore her ACL, a ligament in her knee, and her place at the 2008 Beijing Olympics was in jeopardy, Maor took leave of his work as a fencing coach and a salesman at Yes, dropped his aptitude test studies and relocated to the Wingate Institute for three weeks to help her with intensive rehab.

"I supported her for the Olympics and almost collapsed," he recalls. "I didn't get excited at all about my competitions, and it was hard for her to watch me participate in them. I lean on her for support and she understands me better than anyone else."

After years of struggling, Hatuel finally seems to be fulfilling his potential. He defeated the world champion at a meet in Paris, reached the top 16 in the latest European Championship and joined the Olympic squad. In order to continue receiving his monthly stipend, he will have to do equally well at the World Championships.

As always, his father will be accompanying him. "Even if my opponent is better, taller or faster, and even if I'm trailing with a few seconds left, when I turn my head and see my father, it's everything," he says. "He's a Superman figure for me who can do it all. Thanks to him, I manage to stay concentrated even in the toughest situations."

It seems Hatuel is honing another less well-known talent - singing in the shower. "Every morning after practicing with my father, I give a performance in the country club shower. The others know who I am and love my singing," he says. "Sometimes the audience makes special requests."

Between practice and competitions, Hatuel is studying computer science and biology at the University of Haifa, but beyond a career in engineering or research he says he aspires toward politics. "I want to make an impact so that the next generation will grow up in a place where sports is a way of life."