By Paul R. Dubois
They’ve brought their fencing skills to the point where they have successfully competed on an international level, and now the Tannous sisters, Dominique and Alexandra, are pursuing the Olympic dream, hoping to earn a spot on the Lebanese national team.
Daughters of Jean and Deeb Tannous, the pair is traveling to Moscow to compete in an international competition next month, and then will emplane for Japan, where they will have an opportunity to earn a position on the Olympic team.
Alexandra, 19, and a student at St. John’s University in New York City, has already made her mark on female fencing in the Arab country, winning a bronze medal in the Arab World Championships. It was the first time that a female fencer has ever won a medal representing Lebanon in that event.
Dominique, 15, and a student at St. Mary’s Bay View Academy in East Providence, is an epeeist, and is at the top of the rankings in her division. Her older sister specializes in saber competition.
While the girls have traveled around the world and have been successful in competitions in countries such as Switzerland, Sweden, France, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Qatar and Lebanon where Dominique was the Champion at the Junior/Cadet Arab World Championships in Beirut, it will be a difficult climb to the summer Olympics.
“The games are being held in London, and because they do not have the larger accommodations that some of the previous venues have, there will be a limited amount of athletes invited,” said Jean Tannous. “Lebanon has been placed in the Asian competition and only the fencers who are successful will be allowed to participate in the Olympics.”
Normally, the top athletes of each individual country are rewarded with an Olympic team position, but this year, various countries will be vying for that honor. In the saber and foil fencing competition, there will be only 64 competitors, and epee will have fewer than that.
The girls’ father is a native of Lebanon and the family lived there for a few years when the girls were younger, but returned to the United States where their mother, an attorney, began practicing and their father opened the former Getty Station, now BP, on Mineral Spring Avenue at Smithfield Road.
Both girls took an interest in athletics at a young age, playing soccer and softball, and their father has always been supportive of local youth leagues, sponsoring teams.
The girls were invited to participate in the Lebanon Olympic program after they were observed competing in the Arab World championships. Because their father is a Lebanese native, and the family holds dual citizenship in the United States and Lebanon, where they have many family members, they are allowed to compete for that country.
Dominique said that her decision to attempt to join the Lebanese Olympic team was also to hopefully provide a role model for girls in that country.
“They don’t have many female athletic role models, and I hope to help with that,” she said.
No female representing Lebanon has ever won an Olympic medal. The small country has been competing since 1936 when it sent a delegation to Berlin, and initially, females were not allowed to compete.
In its Olympic history, Lebanon has won only four medals, three in Greco-Roman wrestling and one in weight lifting, all by men.
The Tannous girls hope to snap that trend, and hope to eventually be standing on the podium in London receiving a medal.
The pair began fencing at Rhode Island Fencing Academy and Club, formerly of Warren and now in East Providence, about six years ago when their mother signed them up for summer camp. Originally, only Alexandra was fencing because Dominique was too young.
“She was sort of the fencing club hang around kid, but once she got her chance, she sailed through the competition on a pretty regular basis,” said Jean.
The Tannous girls said that once they got the invitation, they opted to try to earn a spot on the Lebanese team because they have been afforded more tournament opportunities than if they would have competed on these shores. Dominique said fencing with Lebanon has provided her with an opportunity to expand her mental and physical game.
“The mental part of fencing is more important than the physical” she said.
Both have been training extensively in Rhode Island under the tutelage of coach Alex Ripa, owner of RIFA.
“He cares and will do anything to help us improve,” said Dominique. “He’s always looking out for us – pushing us to do better.”
Dominique hopes to someday continue her fencing career as a student at Brown University. She would eventually like to go into sports medicine.
“Both of the girls are very excited about this opportunity,” said their mother. “Dominique is the baby of the team, but already has had strong success and experience, and Alexandra just finished a year of fencing at St. John’s and has already enjoyed strong success on the international level.”