• “I started playing fencing after high school in 2007 but I now do it professionally,” says Ndolo.
• Kenya has been a member of the World Fencing Federation (FIE) for three years now and was represented, for the first time, at the 2022 World Championships in Cairo by Isaac Wanyoike.
Fencing is not a popular sport in Kenya but Alexandra Ndolo has taken the bull by its horns to grow the sport as she chases an Olympic dream.
Fencing is a combat sport that features sword fighting. The three disciplines of modern fencing are the foil, the épée, and the sabre.
Each discipline uses a different kind of blade, which shares the same name, but employs its own rules. Most competitive fencers specialise in one discipline.
The modern sport gained prominence near the end of the 19th century and is based on the traditional skill set of swordsmanship.
Born in Germany to a Kenyan father and a Polish mother, Ndolo, 36, represented Germany in major games until this year when she switched allegiance to Kenya and is eligible to represent the country at the 2024 Paris Olympics, subject to qualification.
Ndolo, a founding member of the Kenya Fencing Federation, represented Germany at the 2013 Summer Universiade held in Russia. She also competed at the women’s épée event at the World Fencing Championships in 2015, 2017 and 2019. She won a silver medal in the épée event at the 2017 European Fencing Championships in Georgia.
“I started playing fencing after high school in 2007 but I now do it professionally,” says Ndolo.
“It’s a sport I love and now I want to spread it across the country. I have competed in many championships and competitions around the world. My next dream is to qualify for the Olympics.”
Many would wonder why Ndolo switched allegiance yet the sport is more established in Europe than in Kenya and Africa in general.
“I got involved in Kenyan sport in 2015 when I was connecting some sports equipment to Kenya and I found there were guys who were interested in fencing."
"For seven years, we have been involved in setting up the local federation, getting affiliated with the National Olympics Committee of Kenya (NOCK) and the World Fencing Federation,” she says.
Kenya has been a member of the World Fencing Federation (FIE) for three years now and was represented, for the first time, at the 2022 World Championships in Cairo by Isaac Wanyoike.
He became the first Kenyan to fence at the World Championship in Egypt, finishing 189 out of 194.
“I am happy that the sport is growing in Kenya and many people are picking it. It was very emotional for me to see the Kenyan flag flying high during the World Championships and we can only move forward,” says Ndolo.
Ndolo, who won a bronze medal at the World Championships in 2019 and a silver at the European Championships, received a positive reaction when she announced she would be competing for Kenya.
“To be honest, I got kind words from fellow athletes from all over the world. This is a very white sport and it’s rare to see black women competing,” she adds.
"It is also an encouragement to young black girls who would like to take up the sport. A lot of black people and Americans came to congratulate me for the switch."
On what keeps her going as an athlete and a future Olympian, Ndolo says: “I like the challenge. I like pushing myself out of my comfort zone and knowing I am capable of doing great things. I want to showcase my potential.”
Ndolo’s father was born and raised in Kericho county in Kenya and schooled at Aga Khan in Mombasa before moving to study in Poland, where he met Ndolo’s mother.
They eventually settled in Germany after his Ph.D.
Ndolo, who is a medical lab technician (medical degree), has four sisters, none of whom play fencing professionally.
She served in the German military between 2011 and 2022.
“I joined the military in 2011 but on sporting engagement. I didn’t go to wars but, of course, I have the training,” says Ndolo.
Ndolo believes a medal at the Olympics will fulfill her ambitions as a fencer.
“The only thing missing is the Olympics. I don’t want to say much about it since we are still doing the qualification, which is a very competitive exercise,” she adds.
“First I need to qualify. It’s a whole year of qualification, very intense.”
Ndolo has just returned from Colombia, the first stop of the Paris 2024 qualifying events, where she ranked 18 out of 190, the highest-paced African.
For her to seal Olympic qualification, she will need to be the top-ranked athlete in Africa at the end of the process. She faces competition from Egypt, Morocco and Mauritius even as she prepares for her next event, in the United Arabs Emirates on May 20.
Even though her father died when she was 10, Ndolo has frequently visited Kenya, including Seme, where her father is buried. She likes spending her holidays on the Kenyan coast — Mombasa, Malindi and Diani.
“I like the country a lot. I frequent the coast and I listen to Kenyan artists like Sauti Sol as well as African icons like Burna Boy,” she concludes.