This past weekend I competed at the Canadian Fencing Championships in Gatineau, QC. Senior Men’s Epee was held on May 19th. For me to improve my rankings on the High Performance Program I had to finish 1st or 2nd. I was excited to see if I could achieve this daunting task!
I had a sinus cold that was running its course through me since I had returned from Europe (May 14th) and it was still going strong the day of the competition. I was not concerned with this sickness as all it amounted to was an extra challenge! I figured I wouldn’t have the same speed and endurance that I do on a good, healthy day but I knew I could still work around it.
I did a long slow warm up to prepare myself and by the time pools was announced I felt like I had found my legs and I shouldn’t have too much difficulty moving around on the piste.
My first opponent in pools was John Wright, a very tough fencer who has an excellent lunge and a great sense of distance. He came out with all guns blazing and I was left in his dust. He took an early lead and I wasn’t able to gather up enough offense to win the match. I lost 5-2, but I had an accurate idea of what it would take for me to compete at the top level through the sinus cold.
On top of losing that first match, I felt like I had lost all my energy but fortunately for me I had a good spot in the pool and I always had at least 2 matches in between mine so I was able to rest up. My second match I felt like I had regained all my energy and I was ready to go! It was a slow start, but I eventually found my groove and began to fence like I knew I could. I didn’t have the explosion in my lunges, so I had to make a couple adjustments on the fly. I had to use more technique and discipline to make sure I always had my point on my opponent’s target. I won the match and again, felt exhausted. The rest of my pool bouts felt the same as the 2nd one, where I would exhaust myself scoring 5 points but have enough time to rest in between to fully recover. I finished my pool with a strong record of 5 wins and 1 loss. After pools I was ranked 12th going into the elimination matches.
I took the time in between the pool round and the elimination round to fuel myself and rest up. I would have to conserve my energy wisely if I wanted to make it through two rounds of elimination followed by the dreaded super pools! For those of you who don’t know, the super pools round happens when there are only 16 fencers remaining in the competition. The fencers are split into two groups of 8 and from there they fence a regular pool, except that it is done on two pistes instead of one and it is against the best 16 fencers at the tournament. It is very intense and you rarely get a chance to catch your breath between matches. Endurance is a must. You also need at least 4 wins to make it through to the top 8.
My first elimination match was against Isaac Velestuk from British Columbia. He is a good kid who moves really well on the piste. My game plan going into the match was to push him into his end and make him attack me because I wasn’t sure if I had enough juice to reach him.
Within 15 seconds of the match starting I saw a hole in Isaac’s defense so I disregarded my game plan and went for the attack. I scored and I was pretty confident I could repeat this action. I applied pressure to Isaac and prepared my attack, within a few seconds I felt the correct timing and went in. The attack had worked twice in a row so I was going to keep trying it until it stopped working. I didn’t wait long before trying it again… and again, both times with the same result. I took an early lead 4-0 but I noticed that with each attack I had done, I was moving slower and not quite reaching as far. I changed to my original game plan and put that action in my back pocket to pull it out later if I needed to. I was primarily looking for doubles as I wanted to conserve my energy. I was confident that I had what it would take to win and if I got in trouble I knew I had an action I could count on. At the end of the second period, the score was 10-5. My game plan didn’t change, as I was pretty sure I could score 5 touches on his attacks before he could score 10. I was planning to utilize the clock and waste as much time as I could, I didn’t need to reach 15 points, I just needed to have more points at the end of the last period. I played around with Isaac and I tried to jam his footwork by throwing in body feints at strange times. My plan to waste time was working. His coach caught on and yelled at Isaac that he was running out of time and had to make some moves. To Isaac’s credit, he stepped up his game and put an immense amount of pressure on me. I was looking to draw out his attack and lock up his blade before scoring a touch, I figured it would waste a lot of time and it would secure single touches for me. I knew that even if he scored the odd single touch I would be able to waste enough time and score enough points to maintain my lead. The points went back and forth and with 10 seconds left I was winning 13-10. Isaac ran at me and I blocked him out time and time again. The final score of the bout was 14-11. I was impressed by Isaac’s determination, he never gave up and he had confidence that he could win. It is great to see that in a young fencer who will certainly be competitive on the senior level in a short time.
My second elimination match was against Kyle Foster, an older fencer but still a very dangerous opponent. I’ve known him for many years and he has always provided me with a very difficult challenge. The last time I remember fencing him I think I barely squeaked out a 15-14 win on a very lucky hit. I was hoping this match would be different. One thing I was happy for about this match-up was that it wouldn’t be a very physically demanding match, it would be very demanding on calm nerves and a steady hand. The game plan going into that match was to use my distance and try to pick off his hand as he attacked, and if I missed his hand I would just finish to his body.
The match started very evenly with each of us scoring a single touch. We came together on the second action for a double touch to bring the score to 2-2. By this point I had found his timing and the distance that I needed to use to hit his hand at will. Every time he came forward I had about 3 clear shots at his hand, if I missed the first 2, the last would always hit. I kept disciplined as I continued with the same game plan for the remainder of the match. I won by a score of 15-3.
By this point in the tournament I felt confident that I could still fence quite well even with the cold. It didn’t take long for super pools to be organized and I was ready to venture into the hardest part of the day for me. Normally, I have no problems with my endurance in super pools and I am excited to compete because I get to watch the other fencers have difficulty with the high intensity and high pace of the matches. I was on the other end this time. I was struggling to regain my energy between matches and it showed in a few of my bouts. I was in the harder of the two super pools but I wasn’t deterred.
I don’t remember much of the super pools as it was all just a blur. I finished with 4 wins and 3 losses, just enough to pull out of super pools and into the final 8! At that point I was completely exhausted. My muscles were aching and I was having troubles even holding my blade. I wasn’t done though, I wanted to win – I only had to win 3 more matches to become the Canadian National Champion. My elimination match in the semi finals was against Tigran Bajgoric, one of Canada’s best ever men’s epeeists. He has a wealth of experience and a history of success. Tigran moves very quickly and is very deceptive in his actions. I knew I had a difficult match ahead of me but I wanted to win it.
Tigran took a pretty commanding lead early on and even though I did my best to climb back, I just could never take the lead. At one point in the match he was up 8-4 and a mounted a comeback to tie the score at 8 a piece. I was going to press forward with the same tactic I had used to make my comeback, but Tigran had enough of it and he changed accordingly. He took another lead and was able to carry on to beat me 15-11. I would shed more light on the bout itself but there wasn’t very much tactically going on, just individual actions where Tigran would get the better of me. I fought hard and well, but it wasn’t enough to beat ‘The Tiger’. Tigran went on to win Gold. I finished 7th.
That capped off the end of the 2012-2013 fencing season. I was the only Canadian to make the top 8 at all three Canadian tournaments. I finished with a 7th, 5th and a 3rd place on the year.
I’m eager to start training as I know I have a huge amount of work to do before I can reach my goals, and it gives me confidence that even though I have such huge holes in my game, I am still able to be competitive with the best in Canada.
Thanks to everyone for the support and for cheering me on through this exciting and exhilarating year!
Over the summer I will post workout tips and updates on my training!