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Jo Halls - Olympic Fencer

Jo Halls
'The level of fencing in Australia when we were younger wasn't very serious, but it became more organised as we got older. However, in order to reach a high level I had to travel overseas.'

Jo will be the only foil fencer representing Australia at the Beijing Olympics. It will be her second Olympics as she competed at the Sydney Games in 2000.

Life is busy for Jo, who travels around the world competing and training while also holding down a full-time job in order to fund her fencing ambitions.


How and why did you become involved in fencing?

My school offered it as an after-school sport when I was nine and my parents suggested my sister and I do something a bit more interesting than tennis. We both ended up competing in the Olympics.

Were you interested back then in competing at a high level or making fencing your career?

I was pretty young at the time so I don't remember being that interested in sport, but when I was 11 years old I watched the LA Olympics and memorised a book about the history of the Games. I knew everything about everyone. Over the years I realised that maybe I could get to that level in fencing.

What sort of competition and training was available when you were growing up?

We did all the schools' competitions, and then the state and national age-group and open competitions. The level of fencing in Australia when we were younger wasn't very serious, but it became more organised as we got older. However, in order to reach a high level I had to travel overseas. I lived in Hungary for three and a half years so I could have access to a world-class coach and training partners. I trained with the Hungarian national team and got experience in international competitions.

You also studied medicine didn't you?

I studied medicine for four years, but I discontinued at the end of 1996 because I didn't have the time to study, train, and work in order to fund my fencing. I wanted to qualify for the Sydney Olympics, so I gave up medicine, got a job and saved up money to go to Europe to train and compete.

Is your time split equally between working and fencing?

I work full time at the Victorian Department of Human Services so obviously most of my time is spent on that. In a normal year, I train for two or three hours in the evenings, and for three or four hours on weekends. The difficulty in balancing the two is that you need to take blocks of time off to compete around the world.

How does your work fit in with that?

I try to be a very valuable employee when I am in Australia, so that I am able to take time off to go to competitions. When it comes to qualifying for and competing in the Olympics, it's a pretty legitimate reason to take some time off, and my bosses and workmates have been very understanding.

Can you fence professionally anywhere in the world?

In Australia the difficulty is that not only do we not get a salary, but we also have to cover all the expenses – club fees, lessons, equipment, accommodation, entry fees for competitions and airfares. In many countries, professional athletes' expenses for travel, training and competitions are covered. In some countries they are employed as part of the police or army with their primary duty being to fence.

How is your preparation going for the Beijing Olympics?

I spent from February to April training in Hungary and competing on the World Cup circuit and then I went to the Asian zonal qualifying tournament in Bangkok. I had to win that in order to qualify for Beijing and I did. I have had a very strong base of training and competition for the early part of this year. Since then, I have done World Cup competitions every couple of weeks in Europe and the Americas. I am about to go to Hungary again for a month to do a series of training camps with the Hungarian national team and some other countries as well.

What happens once you get to the Games?

It will be a lot easier this time because I went to the Sydney Olympics and I know what to expect. Once I arrive in Beijing I will get accredited and then go into the Village – I will probably be sharing a room with Amber Parkinson who's fencing epee for Australia at the Olympics. I'll look around the Village to find out where to eat, where to catch the bus and where the training venues are. You get to know the ropes, attend welcome functions, have a rest and do a bit of light training. After you have competed, you can have a good time, support the other Australian athletes and see a bit of Beijing.

That sounds like fun.

It is fun. I really think the hard part is done now and I'm looking forward to going to Hungary and getting some proper training. If you turn up at the Olympics knowing you are well prepared, you can enjoy some of the excitement that goes along with the Games.

How does your experience at the Olympics differ from someone who is in a really high-profile sport?

It probably doesn't differ all that much because you still have to prepare and compete in the same way that anyone else does. High profile athletes probably have a bit more media to deal with, but then they are probably a bit more used to that. I suspect that they don't have to worry about how they are going to pay the rent while they are away, like I do. But essentially, I think that I prepare as well as anyone who is high profile and try just as hard to achieve a good result.

What are your plans once you get back from Beijing?

I'm going to change weapons and fence in the epee event with a view to qualify for London in four years time. There are some advantages in epee – we have a better system in Australia and there are some good coaches and training partners.

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