Harrogate fencer Caitlin Chang eyes new direction to reach Rio 2016

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Repeatedly charging at an opponent with a 90 cm long sword may not be every young girl’s dream.

But for Harrogate fencer Caitlin Chang, a 10-year-old’s dream has led to a worldwide reality.

Her success through junior competitions has flown her around the world, taking her to enough destinations to convince her to study geography at university.

But her sporting journey could soon take an unexpected course.

The 19-year-old has become so frustrated with British Fencing’s lack of support that she is considering switching nationality to Jamaica.

Chang says she receives no funding from British Fencing who also failed to put her on a performance programme.

She criticised the decision to omit her weapon from the team event at London 2012 and she said the legacy of the Games looks bleak for the sport.

In her own words: “Jamaica is becoming more of an option.”

Chang qualifies for the Caribbean island through her father, who was born there.

Discussions with him and her mother will shape the decision.

The qualification route to the Games could dictate what she chooses. Britain must fight it out in European qualifiers against the world’s best, whereas in the Americas, Chang would be a strong favourite .

But despite the lure of competing for the same country as the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, Chang remains torn over the decision.

She said: “If I got really high in the ranking but it got to the point where because I was European I didn’t go, it would be a missed opportunity.

“It’s not an opportunity I want to miss. That’s why, I think I might as well do it.

“I’d rather try and fail with Britain because that is who I’ve been fencing for but Jamaica is becoming more of an option.

“If they don’t look at women’s epee, if they are not going to support us, then what is the point in staying here. If I wanted to make the Olympics I would go to Jamaica.”

Chang would require a new international licence and a Jamaican passport and the go-ahead from both federations. But if she chooses to go, she sees no reason why British Fencing could stop her.

“Because they have never given me anything, never supported me, never given me any money, how could they say no to someone they don’t support? If you don’t support me, support women’s epee, what’s the issue?” she asked.

“You need two years to build up your ranking to qualify for the Olympics so I would need to make it by the end of this season, or the year after.

“I don’t think I would be betraying them. In a way I would, but then they haven’t given me anything. I don’t owe them anything.”

“If they had supported me since I was 15 and given me loads of stuff, this would never be an option.

“They never once said you are going to be put on a programme. It’s really disheartening.”

It was a trip to the Leeds Royal Armouries as a 10-year-old, which inspired Chang to take up the sport.

She said “I though that is really cool. I want to do that.”

She joined her local club, and within a year became the national champion for her age. Since, she has toured the world competing, progressing from cadets, to juniors and now into the seniors. And it was her love of sightseeing which encouraged her decision to study geography at Sheffield Hallam University

Medalling became a habit at junior level, as she preferred competing against older rivals, highlighted with her junior nationals success at 15, the day after she failed to claim the cadet title

But it’s not always been easy. Her failure to win the Under 17 World Championships will always irk her as she lost to an Australian girl, with “the worst style I have ever seen”.

“The pressure of being ranked number one got to me, I cracked mentally. It was awful,” she said.

“I have always had a self-confidence issue. But I have a psychologist now.”

Junior success, and work as a Lloyds TSB Local Hero, led her to carry the Olympic torch in her home town.

And her experience as a torch bearer has meant she wants to carry on the Olympic spirit and inspire the next generation.

“I have gone round a few primary schools in Yorkshire giving inspirational talks and the little kids do get inspired,” she said.

“They even queued up for my autograph. I didn’t even go to the Olympics and they get so inspired by you. It’s a really good feeling.”

Despite fencing having a long tradition in Britain, support for the sport remains lacking, especially compared to the European powerhouses.

And it was only after a strongly worded letter written to her university that Chang secured the funding that allows her to travel the world to compete.

Chang fences twice a week in Chesterfield and Sheffield, compared to her foreign rivals who are fencing all day every day.”

“They are professionals but in this country, we don’t really do that,” she said.

“I’ve got these results without half of what others have. Sometimes I wonder how far I would get if I had that.

“In Britain, we don’t have the facilities, we don’t have anything. It is frustrating but it’s what we have to live with.”

In December, Chang made her most recent step along her career path when she picked up her first senior international medal with bronze at a satellite competition in Belgrade. And she recalled how music inspired her success.

She said: “I was in my last eight fight to get into the medal zone. I was losing 10-2. It was almost impossible for me to come back.

“My friend though said, just imagine One Direction are over there cheering you on. I don’t even like One Direction.

“I started making this epic comeback.

“I got back to 14-12 and it got to the break again with the other girl needing one point to win. My friend said, ‘imagine it’s One Direction and JLS now’.

“Then I won, and this girl was traumatised. It was a massive stepping stone.”

And Chang admits, she wonders how far she could go with the backing behind her.

She said: “It’s great that Hallam has given me funding. It has meant that I have been able to do some more senior internationals and get experience.

“All I can do is try my best. It took me a while to start getting really good senior results so hopefully it will come.

“I beat so many Olympians, I always seem to beat the best person in my pool and then lose to people who are my level.

“This has been a really positive senior year for me. It makes me feel I can go far, I don’t think I have peaked at all.

“I’m only 19, I can definitely go further. I want to go to the Olympics, I am going to try my best to get there.”

“I would rather try so hard and fail than not give it a go at all.”