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August 1st, 2008
02:39 PM ET

Making swordplay of stereotypes

In the world of fencing, Sello Maduna is South Africa's first black Olympic fencer. CNN 's Robyn Curnow reports.
In the world of fencing, Sello Maduna is South Africa's first black Olympic fencer. CNN 's Robyn Curnow reports.

Robyn Curnow
CNN Correspondent

In the swashbuckling world of fencing, Sello Maduna is ready for some serious swordplay.

He’s softly spoken and slightly built, but South Africa’s first black Olympic fencer likes to talk tough. “You don’t want to be my opponent. I am mean, dangerous and you don’t want to get in my way,” he says.

It’s this attitude that helped the 21-year-old old to qualify for Beijing and break racial stereotypes along the way. But his Olympic coach, Gennady Tyschler, a Russian living in South Africa, says that Sello is “very dedicated. He is a fighter; you can see he is a fighter.”

Sello Maduna’s road to Beijing started in Mamelodi, which is a dusty, poor and crime-ridden township outside Pretoria, where he lives with his mother and grandmother in a small house.

Unemployment is rife here, which is why Sello’s friends earn what little money they can washing cars. Every day, between morning and evening training sessions, he hangs out with them at their make-shift car wash a few blocks from his house.

It from these young “homeboys,” as Sello calls his friends, that he says he got a lot of the emotional support needed to become an Olympian. While they shine hubcaps and soap down dirty car bonnets, Sello and his friends talk and talk and talk. With their ragged T-shirts and dirty shoes, they are an unlikely band of sports psychologists.

“I am his encouragement,” Elias Magaguna says. “I don’t have funds. He is looking for sponsor, for his swords and suits. But mentally and spiritually I am there for him.”

Back at his house, sitting on the outside steps of his small room, Sello proudly displays his medal collection from regional and national competitions. Gazing at the colorful array of medals, Sello says the first time he saw people fencing — when he was in primary school — “I thought it was something silly. And why would they wear white clothes and play around with swords?’

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Filed under: Olympics
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Teresa, OH

    "outside Pretoria, where he lives with his mother and grandmother in a small house." Made me wonder where his father is. Odd isnt it?
    That even so far away from the US, his life is alot like our young mens. Missing father, loving mom, grandmother, friends down on the corner to chill with and get support from.

    Best of luck to him. Fencing is an art.

    ("the 21-year-old old to ": this makes me wonder who is editing the grammar and text that has been copied to CNN lately..)

    August 2, 2008 at 11:04 am |
  2. Annie Kate

    This is one of the stories that makes the Olympics so interesting to watch – hearing how some of the participants actually got to where they are in the Olympics. I hope he wins a gold medal – but if he doesn't I know his homeboys are going to be just as proud of him as if he did – after all he made it there.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    August 1, 2008 at 9:29 pm |
  3. Kent Fitzsimmons,Kewanee, IL

    That's terrific.............I hope he does well................

    August 1, 2008 at 9:09 pm |
  4. wale

    ebony and ivory
    this 5 rings is a must

    August 1, 2008 at 8:29 pm |
  5. Larry

    Haven't there been African fencers since the days of French colonization?

    August 1, 2008 at 4:55 pm |
  6. A Cowan

    Black and white.

    August 1, 2008 at 4:30 pm |