310 fencers in the Senior Men’s Division 1 Epee event.
In one of the biggest competitions I’ve ever attended, I was hoping to make my best ever performance. At the Cleveland Division 1 North American Cup 310 fencers competed for the gold medal in the Men’s Epee event. My preparation was excellent and I was feeling very strong. I had a good feeling about the day. My warm-up was great and all my equipment was finely tuned. I was eager to do some damage!
I got off to a slow start in pools, losing my first match to Ari Simmons by a score of 5-3. It was a good match but Ari came out stronger. My next match went to 4-4 and as I attacked for the 5th touch my opponent had a panicked reaction and somehow he hit me with all his blade waving. He was more surprised than I was that he hit me! I still had a really tough match against Brian Ro and I knew I needed to win to get a decent seeding. Our bout went back and forth and we ended up in overtime with the score at 4 each. Brian has excellent wrist flicks and toe shots so I knew I couldn’t let him set up an attack. I pressed the pace and set up a feint, beat attack but he was quick on his feet and retreated far enough to evade my attack. He hit me on my recovery to win. I had 3 matches that I desperately needed to win to secure a half-decent spot in the elimination rounds. Fortunately for me, I flicked my ‘On’ switch and beat my last remaining opponents quite convincingly.
I was upset with my pool performance and I knew I had a hard day ahead of me. Often times your pool results dictate how difficult of a path you have to the finals, but if you are going to win gold you must be able to beat everyone. I waited patiently for pools to finish and to find out who my first opponent would be.
The strip announcements were called and I went to the area where I would be fencing. The referee called out the matches and I was shocked to find that my first match would be against my training partner, who I had spent the whole previous day with. Jean-Luc D’Eon was also a little shocked that out of 310 fencers we drew each other first. It was upsetting that Jean-Luc was my first opponent, but I knew it didn’t matter who I had drawn, I was going to fence to win.
Direct Elimination #1
Jean-Luc and I know each other very well so it was surprising to me that our match went to overtime. At this point, on any given day, either of us could’ve won. Fortunately for me I was able to keep my nerves about me and capitalize on a mistake he made early into the overtime period.
My next direct elimination match to get into the top 64 fencers was against Jon Normile. Jon competed at the 1992 Olympics and despite being 46 years old, he is still considered one of the top fencers in the USA. I had a very tough opponent to beat but I was looking forward to the challenge. On my way over to my strip I stopped to ask my friend, and compatriot, Marc-Andre Leblanc, for advice against Normile. A few years back Marc-Andre had finished 2nd at a North American Cup, losing to Normile in the finals. Marc-Andre said that Jon’s point control is very good and he moves well. I decided my best course of action for the upcoming bout was to push Normile around and get him as tired as I possibly could while respecting his point control and distance.
Direct Elimination #2
The match with Normile started quite well for me, I pulled to a 5-3 lead. I figured I could hold on to the lead but in reality, I fenced a little too passive and Normile was able to set up a couple touches. His foot attacks were incredibly fast and well-timed, and I couldn’t figure out how he was scoring them. I knew I wasn’t being predictable in my footwork because I was using a lot of half-steps and body feints, but somehow he was still able to score to my foot. Jon had a 6-5 lead going into the 2nd period. My plan was to burn off as much time as I could moving Jon around before committing to my attack. I had to make an action before a minute had passed otherwise passivity would be called and we would move straight to the 3rd period. After about 50 seconds, I saw my opening and launched an attack to tie the score at 6 hits each. My game plan was working as I could see Jon was getting visually tired. I applied the same pressure and was hoping to catch him off guard. One issue I was having up to that point in the match, was I wasn’t able to take a hold of Jon’s blade. He was in perfect balance and anytime I applied pressure onto his blade, he would slip around and threaten me. As Jon became more and more tired I started to find his blade and I started to get confident about taking his blade with an attacking action. Jon scored with less than a minute left in the 2nd period with a beautiful toe touch that left me a little concerned with how I was going to prevent another shot to my foot. I used the remainder of the 2nd period to try and tire Jon Normile to the point of exhaustion.
During the 2nd period break my coach and I discussed what was working and we tried to figure out how to stop Normile’s toe touches from landing. I could not figure out how he was scoring them so the only plan I had was to withdraw my foot as fast as I could when I saw him launch his attack. I could only hope he didn’t have enough energy in him to continue an attack to my body as I would be fully off-balance. The 3rd period started much like the 2nd with me taking my time and tiring Jon out. I got extremely close to him and while doing feints I noticed that he had stopped moving. He was flat footed but his back leg was loaded. I felt like he was going to attack my foot if I left the distance. I took that opportunity to do my own foot shot, beating his blade on the way in. I scored my 7th hit and I could tell with the change in Jon’s movement that he wasn’t going to let me score like that again. I pressed forward again looking to even up the score and after shaving some time off the clock I launched an attack, but was met with a Jon’s accurate counter-attack which raised the score to 8-7 in Jon’s favour. I could see he was extremely tired, he was doing everything he could to buy time and catch his breath. I smelled weakness and I was going in for the kill. With under a minute left I picked up my pace and worked as hard as I could, trying to slow Jon down even more. He took a moment away from his disciplined footwork and I made a step-lunge with an octave beat on the way in to tie the match at 8 hits!! I was very confident that I would win as I had a lot of energy left and Jon was running out of gas. An interesting decision came into my head that I took an extra second to walk back to my end of the piste before returning to the start line. The decision was, with 30 seconds left in the 3rd period do I continue this physical onslaught and try to end the match right before overtime or do I let it go to overtime and allow Normile to regroup and have a 10-15 second rest while priority is being decided? I chose to try to end the match before the 3rd period ended. It was risky, but I didn’t want to give Jon the chance to recover. With only a few seconds remaining in the 3rd period I initiated a long attack that had three actions on Normile’s blade, and after the third action I felt full control of the point. I went for my attack to end the action… and I MISSED! I missed the target by less than an inch and with my blade just beyond Normile’s body he was able to bring his blade onto target and hit me to take the lead at 9-8 with 4 seconds left. I couldn’t let me feelings of that missed action cloud my thoughts because I still had 4 seconds to try and tie up the match and send it to overtime. I ran off the line at Jon but he was able to score again giving him a 10-8 lead with 1 second left. I conceded the match and shook his hand.
Although I was disappointed in my end result and missing a hit that would’ve catapulted me into the top 64 fencers, I did fence well in that match. I can feel that things are slowly coming together and I am not discouraged. I remain very confident in my abilities and I simply cannot wait for my next chance to show them.