Nawal, Neve O’Neil: Kambala fencing champions set sights on Olympics

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Kambala students and elite fencers Neve and Nawal, the daughters of Nicole O’Neil of The Real Housewives of Sydney fame, have hinted the Olympics might be next after returning victorious from the Commonwealth Fencing Championships in London.

The Vaucluse sisters have competed internationally at far flung events in locations as diverse as Doha and Colorado, and each won medals at the recent Commonwealth Fencing Championships.

Neve O’Neil, 16, won silver in the junior women’s foil event and Nawal O’Neil, 17, competed in the senior women’s epée and won bronze.

Proud mum Nicole told the Wentworth Courier her daughters were considering taking the sport all the way to the 2032 Brisbane Olympics once they graduate from high school.

The Kambala students first took up swords while living in London and form part of a tight-knit yet ambitious fencing community in Australia with sights set on growing.

Maestro Filippo Lombardo, former Italian Olympic coach, took the girls on several years ago and has propelled them onto the international competition circuit.

“He‘s an amazing technical coach,” Neve said. “Training with him and having him as our coach, we really improved a lot. And we found that there were a lot of opportunities for us to compete, both nationally and internationally. We started and we kind of never looked back.”

Along with its rarity in Australia, Neve said what many people don’t realise about fencing was the potential to make the sport your own.

“A lot of my friends watched [the championship livestream], and they were really surprised at how technical it is,” she said. “People think it’s just people poking swords at each other and running. But there’s a lot more to it than that.”

Of the three disciplines of modern fencing; foil, épée, and sabre, each with different weapons. Most athletes choose one discipline as their specialty.

Nawal, whose focus is épée, said it was less technical and more fluid than foil and allowed competitors to hit their opponent anywhere, which suits her height and less aggressive style.

Neve said competing in the foil discipline was like playing chess.

“It‘s more kind of in your mind than what your body’s actually doing,” she said. “I like to think of it as like chess, where you have to figure out what your opponent’s going to do, what the referee is going to do, and then make your decision. It’s a lot more calculated.”

The 16-year-old said having the support of her community had “really made a big difference”.

“Especially knowing we have the support of everyone back home, while we’re overseas and having people message you saying that they’ve watched our live stream, and they’ve seen us fencing, and had the opportunity to take the time out of their day to watch,” she said.

“It‘s really special.”