Tokyo-bound Mepstead: New York move helped me battle back from the brink of retirement

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Mepstead, 31, hailed the injection of National Lottery funding as critical after being selected as Team GB's sole fencer for Tokyo 2020
Mepstead, 31, hailed the injection of National Lottery funding as critical after being selected as Team GB's sole fencer for Tokyo 2020

Honest Marcus Mepstead admits a bold hop across the pond salvaged his fencing career and reignited his dwindling Olympic dream, writes Will Jennings.

The Hampstead ace was officially selected as Team GB's sole fencer for this summer's Olympic Games after enduring a bumpy, adversity-filled ride since Rio.

British Fencing lost its funding in 2017 to leave Mepstead – part of the foil team who finished sixth in Brazil – and the sport at a crossroads.

Mepstead seriously considered retiring but says joining forces with elite coach Dan Kellner in New York placed him firmly back on track.

The 31-year-old, whose silver at the 2019 World Championship catapulted himself into Olympic contention and enabled British Fencing to get back onto UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, said: “It’s been a surreal journey.

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“After we lost our funding, it was a decision: ‘shall I retire or keep going?’ I was really close – I remember sitting down and thinking: ‘this is just impossible.’

“There were questions marks about whether I should I step away, but I’m really happy I didn’t. It was kind of that miracle moment and a turning point.

“I thought it would be as disservice to me, all the training the work that I’d done and the people that had supported me, if I was to give up.

“I tried to find every avenue I could to support myself. I went around looking for different coaches and the connection I had with [Chris] was really strong.

“He’s a great coach and his students have done really well. I felt like I was moving to a good place and that was going to be the difference.

“The beginning was very difficult – moving to New York on a budget is not an easy thing to do and in the first two years there were a lot of struggles.

“But it’s been a great success – it’s now given me the opportunity to regain my funding.

“I’ve been able to rebuild the team around me and that team has really help support me through. It was a very challenging move but it was very necessary for me to be in the position I am today.”

Mepstead is one of over 1,000 athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery funded World Class Programme which allows him to train full-time, access the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support.

The 2015 European Games champion finished sixth alongside Laurence Halsted, James-Andrew Davis and Richard Kruse in Rio before losing funding which threw his future into chaos.

But a newfound partnership with fencing guru Kellner – a two-time Pan American Games foil champion – in the Big Apple proved a shot in the arm to his career and laid the foundations for his brilliant 2019 world silver.

2019 European silver medallist Mepstead reckons a move to New York revitalised his career
2019 European silver medallist Mepstead reckons a move to New York revitalised his career

That Budapest success put Mepstead in pole position for Olympic contention and after a gruelling few months in lockdown, his place on the plane is finally secure.

Mepstead is hoping to add to the 864 Olympic and Paralympic medals won by Great Britain and Northern Ireland athletes since the advent of National Lottery funding in 1997 and, when asked on what a podium finish this summer would mean, added: “It would be amazing.

“To set a goal and achieve it is a great experience – whether it’s setting an Olympic medal or any goal you’re working towards.

“National Lottery funding is amazing. To be back on funding is a huge, huge thing for my training and is massive step forward towards that Olympic medal.

“Thank you so much to everyone who plays The National Lottery and who contributes towards my success. Without your support, it’s so difficult to make it happen.”

No one does more to support our Olympic and Paralympic athletes than National Lottery players, who raise around £30 million each week for good causes. Discover the positive impact playing the National Lottery has on sport at www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk and get involved by using the hashtags: #TNLAthletes #TracktoTokyo