On February the 11th, I began my trip to Heidenheim, Germany and Tallinn, Estonia for my first two World Cups of the season. I had a World Cup in Heidenheim on the 14th and 15th, then I stayed in Heidenheim to train before heading to Tallinn on the 20th for a competition on the 21st and 22nd. I returned home on the 25th. I’ve done trips to Europe before, but I always had a travel buddy. This trip was the first one I did all by myself! I’d like to say it went smoothly, but after getting on a train headed in the wrong direction and getting scammed by a taxi driver in Estonia I can’t say that it was all comfort and ease.
After 27 hours of traveling, I arrived at my hotel in Heidenheim. I was relieved and excited at the same time. When I entered the lobby, I saw fencing bags and people I recognize from my previous World Cups. After sharing a few nods of existence with my competitors I checked in and proceeded to my room where my compatriot, Pascal Heidecker, was relaxing and watching the Sochi Olympics. We had the next day to kill before the competition and in an unspoken agreement, we decided it would be spent cheering Canada on at Sochi.
Heidenheim World Cup – 167th out of 258
I was so excited to fence the best in the World. When I arrived at the venue, I took everything in and proceeded to a corner where I could get changed and begin my warm-up. My warm-up was great and I had a really good feeling going into my pool. I knew that I was very well prepared for this competition and being new to the World Cup circuit I knew that nobody would really consider me a threat. The underdog can be a fearsome beast! My first match was against 31st ranked in the World, Sangmin Kim from Korea. I dispatched him handily 5-1, commanding a little bit of respect. I won my next match, but was put back in my place with two losses in a row in overtime. I made a mental note of my mistakes in those matches and moved forward to focus on my next match against Jason Pryor from the USA. I took an early lead against him at 3-1, but I made a tactical change that came back to haunt me. Jason caught up and beat me solidly with a score of 5-3. I had two wins and three losses, I knew I needed to win my next match to guarantee that I would make it past the pool stage. I didn’t let the pressure dictate my performance, I was focused mentally enough to secure a win 5-2. My goal for this competition was to make it out of pools, and with that win I knew I had achieved my goal. The next goal on my list was to win my first direct elimination match, and I was ready for the opportunity.
My elimination match was against Alex Lahtinen from Finland. Alex won a bronze medal at the 2010-2011 Junior World Championships. I wasn’t fazed by his accolades, I was ready to see what my game could do. Our match went back and forth until Alex took a lead at 10-7. I was having a lot of trouble dealing with his dynamic movement. He was very fast and ready to attack me at any point. I changed where I held my blade and I focused on attacking him from a closer distance so that if he decided to try to parry my attack, he wouldn’t have as much time in the shorter distance and he wouldn’t be able to predict where my attack was coming. I tied the score at 10 hits each with this tactic. Lahtinen didn’t seem fazed, he took a moment to return to the line so I knew to expect him to change his approach. In anticipation of this change I lengthened the distance I was fencing from until I could figure out what he was trying to do. After two double touches I decided I would go back to fencing from a closer distance, but Alex seemed to be expecting it. He drew out an attack from me and caught me on my way in. With the score at 13-12 in his favour I was cautious of attacking and I believe that was my downfall. Alex scored the next touch on a magnificent toe touch, and then launched an attack from a very close distance that scored a double and the winning touch for him. I lost 15-13. Although a little upset that I lost, I was happy that I had a good performance. I grabbed my book and wrote down my mistakes and successes from each match. The reason for my losses came down to bad tactical changes. I lost to Pryor and Lahtinen by changing something that was working just fine. I would consider this through my training in preparation for Estonia.
Training and Life in Heidenheim
Pascal and I spent the majority of our five days in Heidenheim cheering on the Canadians at the Sochi Olympics. It was nice to be able to watch the Olympics all day without having to wake up at 3:00 AM like I would have to do if I was at home. Our Olympic observing was broken up each day by a training session at a German high-school that had two gyms dedicated strictly to fencing. It was amazing! We trained with fencers from Israel, Kazakhstan, Portugal, and USA. It was a lot of variety with a lot of high level fencing. I was extremely happy to fence with everyone and learn as much as I could. By the last day of training I felt better than I did before the Heidenheim World Cup.
On the morning of the 20th, I eagerly departed from my hotel to the train station where I would begin my long, stress-free journey to Tallinn. I had no idea what I was in store for! I arrived at the train station and went to the platform I would be boarding from. A train pulled up with no number on it. As people were boarding, I took my ticket to a lady who was standing there and I pointed to it and I pointed to the train while looking quizzical. As she nodded her head, ‘yes’ the train pulled off. Oops! I grabbed my fencing bag and headed to the information desk where a nice fellow said another would be coming at 10:05. I asked how I’m supposed to tell if that is the correct train to board and he said it will have a “BH” on the front. My flight left at 2:15 from the Stuttgart airport, so I was doing OK for time. I returned to my platform and I waited for the 10:05 train to arrive. Just before 10:05 a train pulled up! This train even had “BH” on the front of it. I boarded the train and relaxed into my less-than-comfortable seat. I was pleased with myself for catching the train before it took off. I knew my first stop was only 20 minutes away, but after 15 minutes of passing farmland that I didn’t recall seeing on my way there, I felt something was wrong. There was a nice lady sitting across from me, so I brought out my ticket and asked her if this train was going to Aalen. In very good English she replied, “Oh no. You’re going in the wrong direction!” I no longer felt pleased with myself. Shame was the new feeling that took over. After a panic-filled conversation about how I can get to Stuttgart, my kind German savior suggested that I follow her to Uhm and then board a speed train to Stuttgart from there. I graciously thanked her over and over again. It turned out that this lady was studying English at the University. I felt insanely lucky. I talked with her for the next 20 minutes before getting off the train and heading to the information desk for guidance. The gentleman pointed to a platform that I should get to, because a train going to Stuttgart would be arriving in less than five minutes! I thanked him and then turned to my German friend. I didn’t have words to describe how thankful I was, but I tried. She understand and we parted ways with well wishes. I strolled to the platform and hopped on to the speed-train. I confirmed with two people on the train that this was, in fact, going to Stuttgart. It would take an hour. I sensed a little bit of relaxation easing its way over me, but there was a margin of hesitation. I was still wary. Fortunately for me, I made it to Stuttgart with ease and I had no problems getting to the airport and boarding my plane. I flew from Stuttgart to Frankfurt, and from Frankfurt to Tallinn. I was looking forward to climbing into my bed and fencing the next day, but before I could do that I had to take a taxi to my hotel.
The Taxi Toll
When you exit the airport in Tallinn, there is a big sign that says to make sure you ask your taxi driver how much your ride will cost before you take off. The sign states that it should not cost more than 10 Euro to get downtown. A taxi rolled up, and I asked him how much it would cost to take me to my destination downtown. He gave me an assured response; “No more than 10 Euro.” I loaded my bag and hopped in. I couldn’t see the meter as it was turned to him, but I thought nothing of it. In a couple of minutes we were approaching my hotel. About a block away the taxi driver stopped the car. “100 Euro.” I looked stunned at the taxi driver. He repeated himself, “100 Euro.” I told him that he said it was no more than 10 Euro, but he just shook his head and repeated himself. Then he turned the meter to me and I could see that it said 100 Euro on it. I sighed and exited the car and went to get my bag. I knew I was being scammed, so I decided I would just get my bag and walk the rest of the way without paying him anything. He got out of the cab and I pulled out my wallet while he was unloading my bag so it looked like I was going to pay. I reached for my bag but he held it firm. “100 Euro.” He obviously knew what I was intending to do, and he wasn’t going to let me go without paying. All I had in my wallet at the time was 40 Euro, so I showed him and said, “This is all I have.” He smiled and said it would do. He gave me my bag and drove off before I could even blink. I walked the rest of the way to my hotel. A little upset, I checked in and went to my room. Pascal was still awake, so I asked him how much he had to pay for his taxi, “7 Euro”. Bummer.
Estonia World Cup – 151st out of 236
The taxi situation was the last thing on my mind the morning of the event. I had another opportunity to fence with the best in the world and I was going to make the most of it. I had a decent breakfast and a great warm-up before my pool. I had a tough pool, as most are at these competitions. I had only fenced one of them before, Peer Borsky. I had beaten Borsky in Heidenheim and I was pretty sure I would be able repeat my performance. My first match was against a Latvian named Jurijs Sjanita. My game plan was to get my movement working and try to catch him coming forward while I tried to figure out his tempo. Fortunately for me this was a good plan, I got up 4-1 and I looked to finish with doubles. He caught me on the next action, but I was able to score a double touch right off the line to finish the match and secure my first victory.
My next match was against Ahmed Elsaghir from Egypt. The very first touch of the match was a double touch, I hit his arm and he hit my shin with the force of Sammy Sosa’s homerun swing. I took a moment to catch my breath and tell myself that even though it felt like I was hit with a baseball bat, I was only stabbed with a sword and it would be alright. I disregarded the aching pain in my leg that pulsated during every movement, and I fenced the best I could. Elsaghir and I went back and forth, alternating points scored. The score was 4-4 and I had seen that he was giving an opening to his arm during his preparation. I had the plan to do something on his blade before finishing to his arm as he prepared his attack. Elsaghir came forward, and when I saw my opportunity I launched my attack. I beat his blade out of the way and went for the arm, I missed my initial strike so I decided I would try to finish to his body. That mistake lost me the match because Elsaghir was able to return his point in line and score a single touch on me. I unhooked and assessed the damage done to my leg. My leg was tender during any movement and there was already a bruise starting to form. I figured I would deal with it later.
My third match was against a strong fencer from Russia, Vsevolod Okhapkin. I had the idea to play around in his distance and wait for him to commit before attacking directly into him. I scored a single touch for the first touch and I felt that action could be used to score a double in the worst case scenario. I tried to set it up again and I scored two double touches in a row. At 3-2 I should’ve kept with that same action, but I decided to surprise him with an action to his foot. I felt my set up was good, but he was ready for it and he scored a single touch on my hand. I decided to go back to the action that had scored all my points. We rallied back and forth for position before he gave me the prerequisites I needed for my attack. I initiated the attack and scored another double. At 4-4 I figured I would just stick with the same action because he hadn’t been able to solve it. I did the action twice and both actions resulted in a double touch. Since you have to win with a single touch I decided I’d switch up my action and try to surprise him. Critical mistake. For the second time in my pool I had made a tactical change when I shouldn’t have and I lost.
I wanted to redeem myself with a win over my next opponent, Peer Borsky from Switzerland. I had beaten him in Heidenheim and the match was still very fresh in my mind. I knew what to watch out for and I knew how I could win. Unfortunately for me, our previous bout was fresh in Borsky’s mind as well. He had expanded the distance against me and that essentially eliminated my ability to attack him. We scored two single touches each, and let the bout go into overtime. I didn’t really have a plan in overtime, I was just going to look for openings and attack them when I could. I saw an opening on his hand and I figured I could feint to his foot to get him to drop his point (exposing his hand a little bit more) and then I could hit his hand and score the winning touch. In theory it was great! I feinted at his foot and brought my tip to his wrist, but he had hit my wrist first. I had one win and three losses, and I needed another win to make sure I could make it out of pools.
I had to fence Dmitriy Alexanin from Kazakhstan next. I can’t say I found another gear, because I didn’t change how I was fencing at all, but I was able to dispose of Alexanin fairly easily. Every action I tried scored. I didn’t have a big plan, I just attacked whatever was made available. I had no hesitation and I put everything I had into every action. I won 5-3. I knew I would make it through to the next round as long as I didn’t lose my next match by more than three touches.
My last pool match was against Estonia’s own Jevgeni Blinov. He had a crazy style where he would jump high in the air before either attacking with a direct fleche or taking a step back while his opponent would be trying to catch him flat-footed. It looked silly, but it was incredibly dangerous. I was very wary of this attack so whenever he started I would try to back off so he didn’t have the space to start his attack. I eventually got comfortable with his timing and I tried to fence into his game. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that goes against my entire fencing philosophy. I firmly believe that I can beat anyone as long as I can make them fence my game. I will probably lose if I try to fence my opponent’s game. Blinov and I scored double touch after double touch all the way to 4-4. I figured I would try to attack just as he was jumping into the air because he had no place to go. I launched my attack at the perfect time but he was able to pick off my arm as I came forward. Since he was so high in the air, my arm was unprotected as he did his counter-attack over the top of my guard.
I finished my pools with 2 wins and 4 losses. I went -1 for my indicators. I knew it would be good enough to put me through into the next round. After waiting for everyone else to finish pools, I went to the results board and found my next opponent. Khaled Buhdeima from Libya.
Buhdeima was ranked 33rd in the world going into the ‘Glaive de Tallinn’. I didn’t care about his ranking, I saw it as a chance to achieve my next goal in my World Cup progression: Win my first direct elimination match.
Our match wasn’t very exciting, it started off with me scoring two touches from a fleche with an octave bind. Buhdeima was able to catch up to me and take the lead in the first period, but I was able to regain it with the same fleche attack. All I did was continue to set up that action over and over. When I strayed from setting up that action, Buhdeima would score. I felt pretty limited in my options, but I also felt I would be able to win on that action alone. The second period ended tied at six hits each. I came back to the line ready to do my same fleche attack and then sit with a one point lead never letting him get close enough to me, but always threatening my fleche. I scored my seventh hit in less than 20 seconds. I maintained my dynamic movement and let the time run down. After a minute of inactivity we were forced into a final minute where a half-point would be awarded by a coin toss. The half-point only comes into play when the minute has run out and the score is tied, the person awarded the half-point would win the match. The half-point was awarded to me which meant my opponent needed to score two touches on me in a minute to win the match. I wasn’t going to let that happen. Buhdeima took his time pressuring me, and when he finally attacked I just counter-attacked to score a double touch. With less than 15 seconds in the match Buhdeima had to charge me. I was patient in selecting my time to attack and I was able to pick the perfect timing. I scored a double and 3 single touches in a row before time ran out. I won 12-8 and achieved my goal of winning my first elimination match on the World Cup Circuit.
I found a quiet place to lay down and I had a nap. It would be three hours before I had to fence my second match against Sven Jarve from Estonia. Jarve is a World Championships bronze medalist.
My match with Jarve was pretty anti-climactic. Jarve took an early lead off a touch to my hand and I was simply unable to claw back. Physically, I was able to keep up with Jarve, but he outclassed me with his technique. I feel like I fenced a really smart game, utilizing a lot of my variety and being smart in my actions but Jarve was just better. I lost the match 15-10. Happy with my performance, I went back to my bag to undress and write down my notes from my matches.
My trip home was perfect, uneventful and smooth. I was very happy to see my wife at the airport in Saskatoon, I had been away for a long time and I was eager to be back home and in my routine.