SCOTLAND’S top fencer has revealed how Star Wars put The Force into his dreams of Olympic glory.
As a kid, Keith Cook re-enacted light sabre battles with a rolled-up newspaper, learning sword-fighting skills that could put him on the podium in London this summer.
The 31-year-old father-of-two grew up in one of Edinburgh’s most underprivileged housing schemes and says the celebrated movie franchise inspired him to make a success of his life.
Keith is just one of 12 elite athletes from the UK – alongside David Beckham and Zara Phillips – to be picked as a Samsung Ambassador for the games and seems certain to confirmed as a member of the GB fencing squad at the end of the month.
Unbeaten in Scotland for the past seven years, Keith is a five times Commonwealth medallist and the only member of the UK team to knock out four of the top 16 fencers in the world.
Keith, who grew up in the tough Pilton district of the city, said: “I used to love watching the original films with my family, and I found the light sabre battles really exciting.
“It was something completely different to everything else on TV and in the cinema at that time.
“As a young lad I loved watching good V evil. It was a young boy’s dream to be involved in these fantastic battles – it just really caught my imagination.”
Keith’s unfortunate grandmother took the job of representing Evil in his 80s sword battles.
He said: “I remember I used to roll up old newspaper and have practise battles with my grandma when I was nine years old.
“When I found out that I could learn fencing for real I was very excited. The Star Wars films were very much an inspiration to me.”
Keith added: “I was brought up in Pilton so I started off with boxing.
“A friend of mine went to a fencing club and after I went along to a competition with him when I was 11 I was completely hooked.
“I enjoyed everything to do with fencing. It was completely different from my background.
“With fencing it doesn’t matter what background you are from, when you are fencing it is all even.”
Although the British four-man foil team will not be confirmed until the end of May, Keith is confident he will be picked and positive about his chances of winning a medal.
“This will be my first Olympics and what I have been training for the past six years for. It is a very exciting time for me. I have been training really hard over the past six months and I feel like I am finally in the home stretch,” he said.
Keith now lives with wife Joanne, and his two young children Jamie, seven and four-year-old Imogen in the Edinburgh suburb of Currie.
He trains four to five hours a day, five days a week, working with nutritionists and physio as well as on his strength and skill training.
Keith was diagnosed as dyslexic at primary school, and is now an ambassador for Dyslexia Scotland. He puts a lot of his spare time into supporting fencers from less affluent backgrounds.
When he’s not training, Keith teaches fencing skills at 30 local schools in Edinburgh, working with primary children and adults in a bid to reach out to children in a way he wasn’t offered as a youth.
He said: “Britain hasn’t won an Olympic medal in fencing since 1964 and that is the ultimate aim. There is definitely a good chance of winning a medal – we won an Olympic test event, with the UK A and B teams knocking out the world number one and two.
“It’s all to play for and you should never rule out the underdog – especially with the home crowd behind us all the way.”