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June 25, 2004

Deaf fencer at the epee centre

From: Fox Sports - Australia - Jun 25, 2004

By Kate Murray
June 25, 2004

WHEN Frank Bartolillo takes up his foil in Athens in August he will become only the third deaf athlete in history to compete in the Olympics.

Bartolillo, 22, is one of three Australian fencers to contest the Athens Olympics and he's counting the sleeps until he leaves.

"It feels really surreal," he said. "I'm very excited about the Games but a bit nervous of the competition."

Born profoundly deaf, Bartolillo lip-reads, signs and says his deafness is actually an advantage. "The good thing is there's no distractions. I'm proud of being deaf," he said. "Deaf people can do anything."

Bartolillo qualified for the Olympic team after finishing in the top 16 at the world titles in Cuba late last year.

He will spend several weeks in China for two training camps with coach Al Wardle and manager Beverley Chan before flying to Athens.

"I'm most looking forward to the opening ceremony," he adds. "I want to experience that atmosphere, there's going to be a billion people watching around the world.

"I can get the autographs of lots of famous people and maybe they'll ask me for my autograph, too."

Australia's best result in Olympic fencing was sixth in 1976 but Bartolillo is just hoping to get through the opening round. "I want to win the first bout and I don't want to look beyond that, whatever happens after that will be good. I don't want to worry about the person on the other end of the strip, I'll just go for it."

Bartolillo started fencing at 12 after the sport was introduced at his primary school, the Farrar School for the Deaf. After a few lessons he told his dad he wanted to fence, only to be met with a blank look.

"He said, 'With a hammer and a nail?" he remembered.

From there his dad, also named Frank, has gone on to be his biggest supporter.

"I call us Team Frank. I couldn't have achieved anything myself, I've got the support of my family, friends, UTS and NSWIS."

Bartolillo is surrounded by a close-knit, fiercely loyal group of supporters who have watched him develop from a talented kid to a soon-to-be Olympian.

Mum Angela and brothers Joey and Dominic are also in constant support, and Dominic will be flying to Athens to watch Bartolillo compete.

Chan, whose son Tristan first introduced Bartolillo to the sport, has been his manager and translator for the better part of a decade while Wardle has been his coach for eight years.

"My coach uses body language and he explains himself very clearly - I've known him for eight years so we understand each other," she says.

To support himself he works mornings at Wests Ashfield Leagues Club and manages to combine training with studying to become a personal trainer.

Copyright 2004 News Limited.