Iraqi wheelchair fencer Ammar Ali lives by this philosophy: “In competitions, you can achieve success without winning.”
He is speaking from experience, having narrowly missed out on gold at Rio 2016.
Ali dropped the men’s epee category B final in Rio by just a single point, losing 15-14 to Belarus’s Andrei Pranevich. Yet he is taking only positives from the experience.
“Andrei is one of the best fencers in the epee event,” Ali explained. “He is a friend and I hope we can meet again at the next event.”
This positive attitude should not be mistaken for complacency. Ali is the world No. 2 in the epee category, just behind Pranevich, and is the reigning world champion in the event. These credentials give Ali the confidence he says is central to his success:
“Self-confidence is an essential thing in sport. Every athlete must work hard to achieve excellence.”
Ali took up fencing during his recovery from a bomb blast near his house that cost him the use of his legs.
“I started fencing accidentally in 2009 when I was at one of the local hospitals getting treatment,” Ali said.
“I met one of the members of the Al-Thuraa Sport Club for the disabled. He encouraged me to go with him to that sport club for fencing in particular, because I am a good fit for this sport.”
Ali is still based in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, and trains for at least two to three hours daily, increasing to five to six hours per day prior to competition.
Challenges off the piste
Unfortunately for Ali, his opportunities to test himself in competition will be limited this season. Due to the economic and security situation in Iraq, Ali will only be able to compete at one international event in 2017 – the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sport Federation (IWAS) World Cup event in Stadskanaal, Netherlands, taking place between 12–14 May.
“All my goals are suspended this year,” Ali explained. “Achieving the world No.1 ranking is not hard for me, but the reduced participation puts difficulties in my way.”
Until the situation is resolved, Ali is focusing on making his country proud whenever the chance comes, and on inspiring others to take up wheelchair fencing.
“I feel pride and honour when I represent my country and make the flag rise high at international events. I hope everyone with physical impairment joins this sport to make their life better,” he said.
The IWAS World Cup in Stadskanaal, Netherlands, will be held from 12-14 May. For more information, visit IWAS’s website.