Alex Fava, fencer: “I’m the one who never gives up!”

Wednesday, 17 may 2023

Alex Fava is a member of the French epee team and a BRED Banque Populaire employee. He tells us about his career and his dreams for Paris 2024

A world champion in team fencing, he has managed to reconcile his studies, his high-level sporting career, and now his work in the bank’s communication team that has welcomed him as one of its own.

How did you get into fencing?
I started fencing in second grade to follow my best friend who practiced this sport. He stopped shortly afterwards but I decided to carry on…  because I liked the fact that, in fencing, you could let off steam within a predefined framework. You could have fun while simultaneously respecting your opponents and, of course, the master of arms. It was thanks to my fencing master, Yves Barthelemy in Montpellier, that I fell in love with this sport. He’d developed a light-hearted teaching approach that wasn’t at all like the military-style technique used by certain fencing masters at that time. Thanks to him, I enjoyed going to the training sessions… and enjoying your training sessions is the key to success! After each good competition, I always send him a message. This learning approach has given me memories that go way back to my childhood.

Then your good results led you to leave your club in Montpellier…
When I was 16, I left to join the epee unit at the CREPS training center in Reims in the Champagne region east of Paris. We quickly understood that the next step was to aim for a place at the INSEP national training institute and be selected for the French Team. I made it after five years… knowing that each year, at best, only one of us would be selected to join the national training center for elite athletes. 

Epee fencing in France is definitely one of the most competitive disciplines…
When I arrived at the INSEP, the locker room consisted entirely of fencers that I’d looked up to since I was a little boy: Robeiri, Grumier, Boisse, Obry… a group comprised exclusively of Olympic champions and famous names. This means that when you represent the French epee team, you go into a competition looking to win gold! It was a dream to be there among all these fencers that I admired and to have the good fortune to train alongside them.

And as you were progressing in your fencing career, you continued your studies…?
Yes, I passed my baccalaureate in Reims and went on to take a bachelor’s degree in law. That was the condition imposed by my parents: I could continue taking part in high-level competitions but I had to continue my academic studies at the same time. It never occurred to me to do things differently… because fencing isn’t the same as soccer! I had to do the same work as the other students in my year. When I arrived at the INSEP, I wondered whether I should go on to do a Master’s degree or focus exclusively on my sporting discipline. I enrolled in a journalism, sport and communication course connected with the CFJ journalists training institute, with a specially adapted course of study. Then I took the special competitive entrance exam for high-level athletes to win a place at the ESCP business school. I did this because, when you’re an athlete, you don’t progress in your professional career as quickly as your peers. I passed the entrance exam and took out a student loan… and I worked at the same pace as the other students. My goal was to achieve a major professional reorientation. After obtaining Master 1 and Master 2 degrees and taking a gap year, I found an adapted internship. I graduated from ESCP in December 2016. I’d worked so hard to graduate that I immediately started looking for a work placement agreement. I wanted to start climbing the career ladder, to gain a foothold in the world of work. But it wasn’t easy, especially in those days.
How did you manage to start work in a company while simultaneously pursuing your sports career?
In a forum organized at the INSEP, I met a former athlete working for BRED Banque Populaire.  I attended a series of interviews and I was the first sportsman at BRED to be recruited with this type of contract… I was lucky to be able to do all this simultaneously with a friendly team, with managers who were flexible about my sporting obligations. I was really keen to become a fully-fledged employee, so I did everything I could to be integrated into the company. At the same time, I saw progress in my sports results because, before joining the bank, I was worried about my future… This work gave me balance from outside the world of fencing that benefited my sporting career. The first year I worked at BRED coincided with my best ever fencing results. I was became a member of the Top 16 worldwide, European vice-champion in the team event in 2017/18. Everything was connected…
How do you organize things?
Our foreign opponents are fully-fledged professionals, especially in countries in Eastern Europe and Asia… So once I’d become productive in my professional life, the idea was to free up time for training and, once again, this was organized in perfect agreement with my managers. Today, I work between 15 and 20 hours a week for the company, divided into 2 days of presence plus 2 days of teleworking.

And how will this arrangement work as you prepare for the Olympic Games Paris 2024? 
I asked to be given full-time leave of absence to prepare for the Games. I know that my company is behind me… And that’s extremely valuable. My team and company are giving me fantastic support…Especially considering their status as partners of the Olympic Games Paris 2024.
Do your colleagues keep track of your results?
Yes, it’s pretty cool. I receive messages during the competitions… When I come back, they always have a kind word for me, whether I win or lose…

Do your sports skills help you in your work at BRED?
Yes, and it also works the other way. When you’re a sportsman and a company employee, the two activities are mutually supportive. The values of sport – personal commitment, a sense of effort, teamwork, the ability to handle pressure – all help me in my everyday work. And, conversely, the company has taught me to be more professional in the way I approach my sport, like maximizing my productivity in training but also in terms of discipline, always being on time, fulfilling my administrative requirements, etc.
If you had to name one value in sport that you hold particularly dear?
Surpassing yourself. That’s what I’m trying to do, pushing my limits but doing so within the framework and the rules defined for us. 

What is your greatest sporting memory?
My victory at the World Team Championships in Cairo.
The champion you admire the most, who inspires you the most?
I admire Bolt, Phelps, and Nadal but I don’t belong to their world so they’re not a source of inspiration. I identify more with partners who work hard and who’ll go as far as possible with their own resources and basic potential…
What do you like about your discipline and why is it so special? 
It is a very complete sport that requires mastery of different facets to succeed: technique, physical qualities (explosiveness, stamina, etc.) but also a feeling for tactics… You have to set up game plans to trap your opponent just as you would in a game of chess. And then we stake everything on a competition like the Olympic Games… Representing the French team involves a lot of stress… and, in fact, certain athletes, who were very strong in several aspects of the discipline, failed to make a breakthrough because they couldn’t handle the stress. And, to top it all, fencing is simply magnificent to watch!

What do you think about when you doubt yourself?
I doubt a lot, call myself into question a lot… Doubt is your constant companion in high-level sport. I set myself small goals to achieve every day, working on what’s not going right in order to progress…

What’s your principal strength?
My principal strength is obstinacy. I’ve never been the best, the tallest, the strongest… but I’m the one who never gives up! Becoming world champion at the age of 33 testifies to that…

How do you see yourself in twenty years?
I’d like to be part of a positive chain of transmission but I don’t know how. 

What do the Olympic Games Paris 2024 mean for your career?
They’re my finest objective. It’s a dream to take part in the Olympic Games in general, but when you’re lucky enough to have them in your own country and to be at a point of your development when you’re able to take part… it’s incredible! The goal now is to move forward and stay focused on getting there… 

“We share the same flame”

@Aurélien Le Bourhis