WEST ORANGE, NJ — Four years ago, Alen Hadzic came so close to qualifying as a fencer in the 2016 Olympics that he decided earlier this year to make a full commitment to realizing his goal.
The West Orange resident, a 2010 graduate of Montclair High School who attended Columbia University, has gone all in on participating in the worldwide tournaments and events required to give him his shot at the 2020 Olympics.
"I came in second in Olympics qualifying for 2016," said Hadzic, who participates in epee events. "If the U.S. qualifies a team, they send three fencers, but if they don't send a team, then only one fencer qualifies. In 2016, the U.S. did not qualify a team, so I missed qualifying by one."
After that, Hadzic took a couple of years off from fencing, went to Europe to work on getting his Master's Degree and then worked as a consultant for a private equity firm. But the goal of taking another shot at an Olympic berth was always in the back of his mind; and if he was going to do what it took to qualify, this time he would do it differently.
"I felt like I had the opportunity to shoot for the 2016 Olympics, but I never had dedicated all my time to training," he said. "I have a real good shot to make this team, so I thought, 'What if I dedicate all my time to fencing? Maybe then I will have a real good shot.' I do three-a-day workouts. That's seven days a week. I coach a little bit, but I am devoting most of my time to training and going to tournaments."
Going "all in" has meant that funds are tight for Hadzic, who has suspended his career for now while aspiring to qualify for the Olympics. Funding, too, is almost non-existent, he says, for the sport of fencing itself on the national level.
"Fencing is a poorly funded sport," he said. "The United States Fencing Association only funds the top four athletes, and that's for travel and hotel only. They give a few hundred dollars in a stipend. Fencing is an astronomically expensive sport, between private lessons, equipment, travel and tournament expenses.
"U.S. fencing is considered an amateur sport, so there's no real money involved. They can't seem to find sponsors. Fencing was in James Bond, so it shouldn't be so hard to market it. A season can easily cost me between $30K and $40K. Luckily, I have some equipment sponsors, and my parents have helped me out financially."
Hadzic's family is from Bosnia and Serbia. When he was younger, they would travel back to Eastern Europe every summer to visit their family. Hadzic, who had always been a youth soccer player, was about to enter ninth grade he missed the tryouts for freshman soccer. He instead switched to fencing and quickly became very successful in the sport.
Not satisfied with just participating on the scholastic level, Hadzic began to seek out coaching from epee specialists. In high school, he won the districts three times and the states twice, making it to the U.S. Junior World Team in 2010, when he was a senior in high school.
Hadzic became the 23rd boys fencer to win two state titles and only the fourth epee fencer to accomplish the feat in New Jersey. He had a record of 125-28 in dual meets in his high school career. At Columbia University, Hadzic was the captain of the fencing team.
The 2019-2020 fencing season in which Hadzic is currently participating consists of 10 tournaments — six international and four national. A fencer's best two national and best four international results are counted when the performances are all aggregated at the end of the season, next April. That's when Hadzic will know whether he has qualified for the Olympics.
His next event will be in November. CLICK HERE to visit his fundraising website.