ON the sporting front for Ghana, comes an exciting news at last! Yasmine Serwah Fosu, the 16-year-old Ghanaian fencer is a trailblazer in her sport internationally.
She is currently ranked 100 in the senior worldwide rankings and 54 in the U-20 Juniors though she is still only 16.
“I’m a proud Ghanaian. I represent my flag internationally in fencing, a sport that is new to the nation and every time I perform well or win, I do so for Ghana and for Africa,” says the teenage sensation. Fencing is one of the original five sports of the Olympics. There are three weapons: Epee, Foil and Sabre. Yasmine Serwah is an epeeist but she started out in foil. “It’s best to start training at a young age in foil as that give you certain skills that you then build on as you specialise.”
The sport has traditionally been dominated by European nations but recently, the FIE, the International Federation, has encouraged its development in Asia, America and now in Africa to promote more inclusiveness. American and Asian fencers, after a 25-year programme of investment and training, are now regularly winning medals at Olympic and World Championship levels. For Africa, it has been the North African nations of Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria that have succeeded – until Ghana’s Yasmine Fosu. She was the first athlete from Sub Sahara to break the North African monopoly by winning a medal at the African Championships in 2014 at the age of 14.
“It was an amazing feeling to win a medal for Ghana. I shall never forget it. And all the African nations present were so proud to see Ghana represented on the podium. The following year in 2015, I did it again in two weapons. It was a major upset result for the North African nations who had grown accustomed to making podium. Every time I win an international medal for Ghana, it is worth more to me than before. It’s hard to explain the pride and satisfaction that goes with it. And when Ghana and Ghanaians acknowledge it, it’s the most rewarding feeling,” says Yasmine.
Yasmine is currently ranked 100 in the international worldwide Senior Rankings. At the age of 16, that is a tremendous achievement as she has a long career ahead of her. ‘I think I’m the youngest to be ranked so high since available records. I’m just very happy that I represent my country at a high level internationally. Every time I beat my opponent, I’m very aware that I’m doing it for my nation and for Ghanaian girls especially.”
But Yasmine’s journey has been hard work and taken a lot of dedication, commitment and practice. She started when she was seven years old. Her first medal was a bronze in a mixed U-10 tournament.
“That was my first one and I still have it!” she says. “Fencing is a sport that takes years of practice. It’s not just about training to run against the clock or perfecting technique. It is all those things as well as a tactical and strategic sport that can only be bettered by having a variety of opponents and practicing all the time. The truth is that most of the top fencers started young. That is how most nations who have succeeded with their programme have developed their talent at a grassroot level from a young age, consistently building skills and competition experience. It’s not something you can just pick up and be amazing at in a matter of a few years. I started competing around the age of 10. I was the British U11 champion, then the U13 Champion in the UK, because I was going to school in England. So what was expected of me was to go with team GB when I was selected for the youth team. But I told my mother that I did not want that.”
Instead, Yasmine declared that she wanted to fly the Ghanaian colours. “I am a Ghanaian and it was important to me to be an athlete for Ghana in this sport because I wanted to break through the glass ceiling. And to do so as an African girl is even more important for me because opportunities for females in sports in general is something that is being discussed at the highest levels of African leadership. I know the harder I work and the better I do the more I will have a platform to do positive things for my community which is really my goal.”
Last year was particularly challenging as Yasmine had to juggle a heavy academic commitment of 10 GCSEs with training and competitions in Algeria, Egypt, Mali, Congo, South Africa and all over the UK. “I just had to be really organised as I wanted to make sure I got a great set of GCSEs. So I would take my work with me everywhere. I got 7 As/As in Maths, English, History, Chemistry, Biology, Economics, and 3 Bs in Physics, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese.’”
“It was pretty intense! I missed over 30 per cent of my school lessons, so I had to do a lot of work on my own to catch up and fit in all the travel and training.”
Last year, I managed two bronze medals for Ghana and I was the youngest in Junior U-20s and finished in the top 8. That’s just one step away from a guaranteed medal in Under-20s. It would be a first if I manage to pull off medals in two separate age divisions and two separate weapons in subsequent events. I can’t wait!”
Yasmine’s hard work and dedication is paying off. As well as winning the African Zone Championships, she finished 10th in the prestigious Commonwealth Fencing Championships out of all of the Commonwealth nations and is currently the ‘Master at Arms’ champion in the UK. That is the top girl in the UK in all three weapons. She is also the current reigning silver medallist British Youth Champion.
“Because I train in the UK, I am allowed to participate in the British Youth Championships whilst wearing my Ghana colours, so making it to the finals was a huge source of pride and a unique first as I was the only African ever to compete at the British Youth Championship wearing my African Ghana colours with pride.”
Yasmine attends Millfield School, one of the top schools in Europe for training young athletes. This year, eight athletes from the school came back with four Olympic medals in swimming; 2 gold and 2 Silvers. Yasmine’s coach is the national coach for several European champions. Her school is proud of her achievements for Ghana and is considering her for Head Girl position. It would be the first time an African of any gender has had the honour.
“Yasmine combines innate intellectual flair with ambition, high levels of motivation and determination. She is a top academic, international sportswoman, involved in the international society, school council and the school magazine. She is possibly one of the most tenacious pupils that I have encountered,” asserts Head of 6th Form Millfield School.
“I realised that one of the problems with developing grassroots sports participation was a lack of decent equipment so I set up a programme to collect sports equipment from various schools in the UK and I now have a lot of hockey sticks, tennis rackets, football boots and fencing equipment. I just have to figure out how to get it to Ghana now! I made a donation of a large quantity of fencing equipment to various African federations this summer in Mali when I attended the African Championships. The equipment went to Togo, Mali, and Soweto in South Africa. It makes a big difference if you have the kit so you can take up a sport. Mali and South Africa have been in touch asking for more kit which I’m busy gathering up to take for distribution in February. It’s fun and it’s a useful practical thing to do.’
The Rt. Honourable Lord Paul Boateng of Wembley and Akyem, said “Yasmine is blazing a trail in a sport where Africa and its diaspora are too rarely represented. Yet any visit to a museum will show that swordsmanship has been practiced in Africa for centuries, with some of the finest pieces of work emanating from the ancient kingdoms of Ghana, to which Yasmine can trace her ancestry. Brent and Ghana can be justly proud of this rising ‘Black Star.’