The little princess of early years grew up to be a great fighter. A modern story told by Ysaora Thibus. The foil fencer from Guadeloupe looks back on her athletic and academic career.
Do you remember your early fencing days?
I started when I was 7, in Guadeloupe. It was a period of keen interest in this sport due to the image of Laura Flessel, who came from the island. My mother took my brother and me to discover fencing. At the time, I was doing classical dance, I was truly a little princess. Initially, this introduction to the sport was intended more for my brother. It turned out I liked it straight away, and I quickly got a taste for competition. It became an addiction. Making a hit, defeating the opponent, I was no longer the prima ballerina, but the fighter.
How do you juggle your intense sports activity and your travel with your private life?
I actually have a double project that is very important and inseparable, combining sports and studies. I am currently studying for a Master 2 at the business school, and at the same time it is a very important year from an athletic point of view because it precedes the Olympics. Concerning my private life, I live with my partner and I also schedule time to see my friends and family. That's another reason why I needed to study outside the INSEP (ed: The National Institute of Sport). I had the opportunity to graduate in economics at the Sorbonne. I met a lot of people outside the sport, I have friends everywhere, in Guadeloupe, from university and from school.
I sometimes need to escape outside the sport, and I manage to.
This is a very busy year. I give priority to the Olympic preparations because I don't want to have regrets. I remain focused primarily on fencing, and my schedule consists 70% of sports. 20% are for my studies, and 10% for my private life.
Has the sport given you the opportunity to have great encounters?
Yes, and I'm thinking primarily of the foil fencer Anita Blaze. We started fencing together in Guadeloupe. We are the same age, we come from the same town (ed: les Abymes), and we were rivals only in the beginning. We arrived in Aix-en-Provence at the same time in order to join the INSEP. We became friends within the sport but also outside it. I was able to meet other high-level athletes. Some have stopped their activity, but I still see them.
The INSEP brings people together. I've also had the opportunity to train with Laura Flessel in 2012 and to participate in the London Olympics alongside her.
She is a model for many athletes, and she remains a fencing icon to this day.
You were also rewarded for juggling advanced studies with sports. Where did you find the motivation?
Combining the two has always been a necessity for me. When I was preparing for the entrance exam to the business school, I didn't feel very well because I had the sport but no studies on the side. I need to have a balance between the two. It's true that during my first year in business school my athletic results were weaker. I returned from competitions and studied on the plane. I went to the exams immediately after returning, while other athletes went home. I dream of the Olympic Games, but I want to make sure I can make a nice switch in a few years. The high level applies to sport but also to my studies. This is what I've always wanted to do.
Your most recent highly emotional moment took place in August in Mexico. How did you experience that beautiful victory at the World Cup?
I didn't immediately realise the greatness of the occasion. It was the culmination of a series of events. At the World Championships in Russia in July, I wasn't disappointed, even if I lost my last assault on the verge of the semifinals, 15-14, against Nzingha Prescod, an American who is a friend.
Nevertheless, this encouraged me to go further. I had already been on world podiums, but I'd never passed the semifinals level. In Mexico, I took the matches one by one, remaining focused and aggressive from the start of the day. The increase in difficulty allowed me to get into the competition.
I was happy to fight the title holder, an assault that I won 15-10.
Afterwards, I fought the Italian Elisa Di Francesca, reigning Olympic champion, and I won 15-7. I then encountered another Italian, Alice Volpi, in the final, I was led 7-0, but I managed to get the upper hand and make a great match. I went through numerous stages, and then won 15-13. I didn't even realise it immediately, it took me two days to do so. My family, my coaches, my boyfriend, everyone was happy and I finally understood why.
Ysaora Thibus, 24, licensed with AS de Bourg-La-Reine and member of the French foil team since 2012. Athlete and student based in Paris, Ysaora Thibus is 6th in the world and 1st in France.
Is it necessary to be present on social media to generate talk about oneself and one's sport?
I started being present on social media a year ago. I have to mention I post everything myself. This allows me to talk about my everyday life, my training, my injuries, my victories. I currently have almost 2000 followers, and I never thought there would be so many people supporting me. I was told about the importance of having a Facebook account and a Twitter account. People are interested in what I do. I love telling about what I go through. I was inspired by other sports, more publicised than fencing. I looked at what athletes in judo and athletics do. The girls told me it was interesting. It allows you to have exchanges with devotees, with fans, and also to work together with others on your image and visibility.