Since the inception of the modern Olympic Games in 1896, only five sports have been featured in every successive installment: athletics, cycling, swimming, gymnastics, and fencing. While many are familiar with these sports, there is one outlier that remains largely clandestine to the general public: fencing. Originating in the late 19th century, fencing has since been relegated to a niche category in the eyes of many North American sports enthusiasts.
McGill alum Joseph Polossifakis has set out to change that. A 2014 graduate of the Desautels Faculty of Management, Joseph is a member of the Senior Canadian Fencing Team and has recently qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Bull & Bear sat down him to gain a deeper insight into the sport of fencing and hear about his aspirations for the 2016 summer games.
B&B: Would you say that your McGill career shaped your aspirations for the Canadian Olympic fencing team?
Joseph: “Yes, definitely. My time at McGill has aided me in representing Canada on the Olympic stage. Throughout my five years at Desautels, I was always supported by my peers and faculty members to pursue my life’s goal. Becoming involved in the faculty, such as participating in events like Jeux de Commerce (JDC) during my undergraduate career, showed me how encouraging the environment was. The skills I gained at McGill have continued to motivate me to pursue my passion [of fencing].”
B&B: How did you get introduced to fencing? What about the sport makes you passionate?
Joseph: “I started fencing in high school at College Jean-de-Brebeuf in Montreal. Their fencing program was very reputable, and I was actually completely oblivious to the sport before attending the school. I initially competed against fifty other students to try out for the team and managed to make the twenty-person roster.
My passion for the sport came from the close-knit group of friends I made during my formative years of training. One of the reasons I have come to love the sport is the strategic planning necessary to win. No matter how talented an individual is, careful strategy and preparation will trump natural ability almost every time.”
B&B:What is the future of fencing? How can more people become exposed to the sport?
Joseph: “In much of Canada and North America, there is a general lack of enthusiasm as compared to many European and Asian countries, which have well-established programs and receive substantial funding. The underexposure of fencing in North America doesn’t rest in a lack of interest for the sport, but instead in a lack of opportunities.
The solution lies in both promoting the sport in children through in-school platforms, as well as leisure programs for young adults. Because fencing isn’t too physically demanding, it is a sport that you can be recreationally involved throughout your lifetime. Every novice fencer I have talked to has reiterated how fulfilling the sport is, both physically and mentally.”
B&B: What are your thoughts on the political turmoil (concerning the mass corruption scandal of Dilma Roussef’s government) going on in Brazil right now and how do you think it will impact the global perception of the Olympic games?
Joseph: “Leading up to the commencement of the events, there is always some doomsday scenario that is heavily emphasized within mainstream media to garner public attention. It’s unfortunate that these issues are only highlighted because of the Olympics. With all the recent developments happening in Brazil, it is as if the last place anyone wants to be is at the Olympics themselves. I think that as we get closer to the games, the global audience will shift their attentions to following the events, but the corruption in Brazil and how it is affecting its citizens shouldn’t be ignored.”
B&B: What do you hope to accomplish after the Olympic games?
Joseph: I plan on continuing to fence, but I’d also like to pursue a career with Bell Canada. Two years ago I applied for the Leadership Program at Bell and was selected to start in September of 2014. After making it through the various rounds of interviews, I had to inform them of my plans to compete in the 2016 Olympics, deferring the offer by two years. I knew that if I did not follow the dream that I had been preparing for since I was twelve, I would end up regretting it for the rest of my life. This coming September I will start the rotational program at Bell and plan to build a successful career path through their leadership development initiative.”
It is hard not to feel inspired by the sheer passion and respect Joseph has for the sport of fencing and its historical place in the Olympic games. His story exemplifies the importance of following one’s passions and highlights how an education at McGill can actually benefit, not take away, from achieving one’s unconventional dreams. Even though McGill may not offer a major in fencing, the university does offer the opportunity to build a network, a sense of resilience, dedication, and ambition. With the Olympics just four months away, we hope to see Joseph representing both Canada and McGill on the world’s biggest stage, and wish him all the best in his fight for the auspicious gold.