Canadian fencer Marc-Antoine Blais Belanger clinches Olympic spot in men’s épée

Marc-Antoine Blais Belanger undoubtedly will draw on his NCAA fencing experience when competing this summer in men’s individual épée event at his Olympic debut in Tokyo.

The 26-year-old from Montreal secured his spot with a gold-medal victory over Cuba’s Yunior Reytor Venet on Saturday at the Pan Am Olympic qualifier in San José, Costa Rica.

“There’s so much pressure [in NCAA competition] because everyone’s [trying to] go out and be the best for their school,” Blais Belanger said in an April 2018 interview with The Lantern newspaper at Ohio State University, where he was Buckeyes captain for three years. “There’s always so much intensity at every tournament.

“I think that’s going to help me a lot to handle pressure [at an Olympics].”

Vladimir Nazlymov, a three-time Olympic fencing medallist for the then-Soviet Union in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, believed Blais Belanger was an Olympic-calibre athlete when he coached him at Ohio.

7-time Canadian champion

“[He has an] unbelievably strong neural system. He can be patient until last millisecond,” Nazlymov, the Soviet national team coach at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korean, told The Lantern in 2018. “It’s not timing. It’s [instincts]. He’s unbelievable talent.”

Blais Belanger, a seven-time Canadian champion, placed second at the 2016 NCAA championships and won the title two years later at Pennsylvania State University in his senior year.

Later that year, the mechanical engineering grad finished seventh in team epee with the Canadian squad at the 2018 Pan Am fencing championships in Havana, Cuba.

On Sunday, fellow Canadian Leonara Mackinnon – who was born and raised in England – will attempt to qualify for her second Olympics in women’s epee. She placed 32nd in women’s individual epee at the 2016 Games in Rio.

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