Courtesy of Mona Shaito
Ohio State is home to hundreds of student-athletes, but three are in a league of their own after participating in the 2012 London Olympics and making plans to train for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Zain Shaito and Mona Shaito are not only siblings, but also members of the OSU fencing team and the Lebanese Fencing Federation’s Olympic team. The brother and sister have trained together since they were kids, and the sport has become a sort of family affair.
Raised outside of Dallas, Zain and Mona Shaito both have dual citizenship between the United States and their father’s home country of Lebanon. Both feel honored to have had the chance to compete next to a sibling at the highest athletic competition in the world.
“It’s a rare opportunity to have your sister alongside you at the Olympics,” said Zain Shaito, a third-year in international studies and neuroscience.
However, during Zain and Mona Shaito’s training for the Olympics, the duo had a difficult decision to make – they had to determine, individually, whether they were going to compete for the U.S. or Lebanon. Ultimately, they both decided to fence for Lebanon’s Olympic team.
“There’s more opportunities to fence for Lebanon, because I don’t have to go through making the team to go to all these world cups and world championships,” said Mona Shaito, a second-year in criminology. “So I can get more experience, and I can just fence, which is all I want to do.”
For Zain Shaito, the decision had more to do with the hardships faced by Arab people in the Middle East and wanting to show a better side of the Arab world.
“I’m young, (so) I can take this opportunity to do something better, to do something for the other side of my heritage,” Zain Shaito said. “I could have competed for the U.S., but I was just like, ‘OK, this time I’ll represent Lebanon. See what happens.’ And it brought a lot of respect to my family overseas.”
Although the decision to fence for Lebanon turned a lot of heads, it was a heartwarming choice for Zain and Mona Shaito’s family.
“My parents were definitely proud, especially my dad, (since) he’s from Lebanon,” Mona Shaito said. “I live in America. I know the American culture. But to represent another part of me, it just felt really nice. So my parents were both really proud.”
The decision to compete in the 2012 Olympics was also a difficult one for OSU student-athlete Amanda Furrer. After serving as an alternate on the 2008 U.S. Olympic rifle team for the Beijing games, she was not sure if she wanted to continue with the sport.
“For me, that was kind of a letdown, and I didn’t know if I wanted to pursue rifle anymore,” said Furrer, a fourth-year in economics and business from Spokane, Wash.
However, after competing with OSU’s rifle team for three years, Furrer decided to pursue the 2012 Olympics. She then opted to take a year off from school in order to train full-time at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Furrer tied for 12th place in her event with a score of 581 out of 600, only two points from making it to the finals.
“I made a couple mistakes here and there, but I actually competed very well,” Furrer said. “It was actually tough conditions that we were competing in because it was outdoors. Twelfth doesn’t sound that good, but it was 12th in the world for my sport. I don’t have any regrets looking back, and I trained really well.”
Zain Shaito is also proud of his performance in London, despite being knocked out of the men’s individual foil competition in the first round. He lost to Jun Zhu of China 15-2, an opponent that he has defeated previously.
“I’ve competed against him before and beat him, but at the Olympics he was just way more prepared and experienced,” Zain Shaito said.
Despite the disappointing loss, Zain Shaito said he feels the competition has better prepared him to win a medal in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“I saw a lot of really cool things about the Olympics,” Zain Shaito said. “I know how to better prepare myself for 2016, and I really think I’ll bring home a medal next time. It’s inspiring.”
Mona Shaito advanced a bit further in the London games in the women’s individual foil.
After narrowly winning her first match against Egypt’s Shaimaa El-Gammal, Mona Shaito lost to the eventual gold medalist in her event. Elisa Di Francesca of Italy beat Mona Shaito 15-2, knocking her out of the competition.
“It’s hard to lose, especially your second match, and just generally it’s hard to lose in the Olympics (after) coming that far and working that hard,” Mona Shaito said. “I was just happy to be there and to have the experiences.”
Although Mona Shaito has not committed to competing in Rio in 2016, she still wants to fulfill her dream of winning an Olympic medal.
“It’s really hard, and it’s another long journey,” Mona Shaito said. “I’m still deciding to go try to medal again or go to law school.”
Although Furrer, Mona Shaito and Zain Shaito did not place in the London Games, they are all confident in their chances of medaling in the 2016 Games.
“For me, there’s a few technical things I need to work on,” Furrer said. “One of my positions isn’t as strong as it could be. Also, my mental game. I’m also going to work on getting into more high-stress situations so I can improve my mental game a little bit.”
After graduation, Furrer will return to the Olympic Training Center to train full-time.
“I actually decided that a couple weeks after I returned from London,” Furrer said. “I’m graduating in May, and I did decide I’m going to train for the next Olympics.”
Zain Shaito has similar prospects for the future. After graduating from OSU in 2014, he hopes to train full-time for the games in Rio.
However, Zain Shaito has decided to compete with the U.S. Olympic team if he qualifies for Rio in 2016.
“Now, my goal is for the U.S.,” said Zain Shaito. “My chances of medaling will be really strong, so hopefully I can be up there with Jesse Owens. My dream has always been to represent the United States – any athlete’s dream growing up here in the U.S.”
Despite her brother’s decision to fence for the U.S., Mona Shaito has decided to stick with Lebanon if she qualifies for the Rio Olympics.
“I don’t think that I would change, because I have obligated myself to represent a country, and I’m going to stick with that,” Mona Shaito said. “Not that I’m saying it’s bad for (Zain) to do that. If he thinks he should do that, I will support him.”
Furrer, Zain and Mona Shaito have all competed in their sports on the international stage, but none are ready to step out of the light until they earn a spot on the medal platform.
“My coach always says, ‘There’s never a limit to working hard,'” Zain Shaito said. “So you just do the work and the result will come. Hard work will bring results no matter what, even if it’s not the result you want, it’ll be something.”