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Ukrainian cancels retirement plans having missed out on gold in Rio.
Had there been a golden finale in Rio de Janeiro, Olga Kharlan might well now be in retirement at the tender age of 26.
But the former teen sensation of the sport, who won gold as a 17-year-old at the Beijing Games, could not emulate that feat this summer and instead left the latest Games with a silver and bronze to her name.
Six months on from Rio, her sights are set on a fifth Olympic medal to match the five ring tattoo that adorns her body, but that goal might have been very different.
“I want to be at the top but I am nearly 27 which makes it hard,” she said. “I want to be in Tokyo as I want the gold medal. After Tokyo, I will think about what I do next. But I thought if I won in Rio I might quit but, not now, I need the gold.”
It was with gold that she announced her name on the world stage, winning the sudden-death point in the team sabre #event against China, that moment on the piste turning her into a household name in her native Ukraine.
Four world titles and seven European golds have followed since, while at Olympic level there was an individual bronze in 2012, a feat she repeated in Rio where she also won team silver.
Fencing has very much become her life both in and out of #competition having married fellow Ukrainian fencer Dmitry Boiko. For a time, the pair would compete in training but, for the good of their marriage, they have opted against any further inter-family fencing competitions.
“We trained a few times together, but he won and he hit me so hard I got mad at him so then we stopped fencing with each other!” she said. “We said ‘never again’. It was a mutual decision But he understands everything I go through which is cool.”
Having committed to another four years of hard work between now and the next Games in Tokyo, Kharlan knows the hard slog that lies in wait.
Such is her training schedule, she has little time to embrace her hobbies such as photography or even going to the cinema. As she puts it, “All I want to do is sleep and rest.
“Sometimes it sounds nuts but this is my life. Sometimes it’s tough as I don’t have time for elementary things like going to the movies but I know this is my work. Sometimes I come back from competitions and training camps and sleep for sometimes 15 hours.”
Saying that, she has just begun making time for a painting class and, in a break from the sport, competing in the diving television programme Splash. Unsurprisingly for the born competitor, she says: “I went on and won it. I was so afraid - it was so scary on the 10metre board. It was a big lesson, if you fear it, you have to do it!”
From the diving board to the piste, she says the sensation is directly parallel even with over a decade of experience at the very highest level.
“I still get scared and nervous before fencing, every time,” she admitted. “It could be any completion. I think every athlete needs to be like this, if you are too calm, it is not good.”
That she has made it to this point is, in part, down to the fact that her family struggled financially, the dance lessons she once craved as a young girl proving too expensive for her to continue with.
So instead she was introduced to fencing (a free sport in Ukraine) by her godfather Anatoly Shlikar, and she immediately clicked with the discipline.
“I really loved to fence with the boys as they are stronger, faster,” she added. “Everybody says even now I fence like a boy! But I trained hard straight away. This is my character, I wanted to be somebody.”
Both at home and abroad, she has become just that.
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