Italian-born fencer joins Brazil to fulfill grandma's dream
SAO PAULO (AP) Italian-born fencer Nathalie Moellhausen grew up hearing her Brazilian grandmother talk about Brazil.
She rejoiced every time ''Grandma Marcelita'' picked up the guitar and played Brazilian songs around the house.
It was because of her that Moellhausen learned to love Brazil.
And now, to fulfill a dream of her 82-year-old grandmother, Marcela Farotti, Moellhausen will be competing for the hosts at the Rio de Janeiro Games.
''Brazil means everything to her, and she wanted me to do this for the country,'' Moellhausen said. ''She said it would be good to do something like this for a place that we love so much. So when the opportunity came, I decided to make the switch.''
Moellhausen, who has an Italian mother and a German father, has dual citizenship. She joins Brazil's Olympic delegation after representing Italy her entire career, including at the London Games in 2012.
''This is something she really wanted,'' Moellhausen said of her grandmother. ''She cries every time I talk to her about me competing for Brazil.''
Farotti said it's hard not to get emotional.
''It's moving to know that she will be competing under the Brazilian flag, which is also my flag,'' Farotti said. ''I did everything I could so she could compete for Brazil, and now I'm incredibly happy that this is finally going to happen.''
The 30-year-old fencer said she visited the country many times on vacation with her grandmother but had never given serious thought about competing for Brazil until Rio was awarded the Olympics in 2009.
It wasn't easy to make the switch after representing Italy for so long, but she felt her connections to Brazil were strong enough to justify the move. In addition to making her grandmother happy, she also saw an opportunity to help develop the sport in a place where it lacks popularity.
''I did it for my grandma but also because it gave me the opportunity to help promote fencing in Brazil,'' she said. ''I've been fencing virtually my entire life. This is another chance for me to fulfill my mission in the sport.''
After the London Games, Moellhausen took a break from competition to become the art director of the event celebrating the 100th anniversary of the International Fencing Federation, which took place at the Grand Palais in Paris in 2013. Moellhausen, who speaks five languages and studied philosophy at Sorbonne, also did some modeling jobs and photo shoots related to fencing.
She put an end to her retirement after Brazilian fencing officials showed interest in her competing for the hosts at the Rio Games. The country was awarded extra spots as the home nation and was looking for talented athletes with connections to Brazil, although Moellhausen eventually qualified through the world rankings, without using the automatic berths.
''My goal is to win a medal for Brazil as a way to thank the country for having accepted me,'' she said. ''That would be the best way to show my appreciation for the country.''
The epee fencer succeeded internationally while representing Italy, helping her native country win the team competitions in the 2007 European Championship and the 2009 World Championship. Moellhausen also won the individual bronze at the 2010 World Championship and the 2011 European Championship.
She has been training in France for the last 10 years with some of the sport's most renowned coaches, including Frenchman Daniel Levavasseur and five-time Olympic medalist Laura Flessel-Colovic, who helped Moellhausen reach No. 13 in the world rankings.
Moellhausen will have a chance to give Brazil an unprecedented medal in fencing. The Brazilian team hasn't achieved any significant results in the Olympics so far.
Moellhausen said it's unlikely that her grandmother, who left Brazil a few years ago and has been living in Milan, will be able to make the long trip to Rio for the games, but the fencer has promised to keep her updated.
If she ends up with a medal, Moellhausen said she will get back to Italy as quickly as possible to show her prize to Grandma Marcelita.
''I already know that she won't stop crying, she will be out of words to describe her feelings,'' Moellhausen said.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/tales-azzoni