(photo courtesy of Devin Manky)
The Victor Gantsevich Grand Prix was held in Richmond, British Columbia in Canada on March 22nd and 23rd. Last year I was aided by the home country advantage and scored my best Senior World Circuit result of 43rd! This year I wanted to better my previous result and gain some much needed points in the Canadian High Performance rankings. There was 108 competitors fencing from all around the world. We had 17 fencers representing Canada!
I had about a month to prepare between my last tournament in Estonia and the tournament in Richmond. I took the mistakes I had made in Europe and worked diligently adjusting my technique and game-plan. I spent a lot of my training focused on my footwork and launching attacks from a change of direction. I had a myriad of weapon issues during my month of training, and I didn’t have enough time to order new blades and have them arrive before my competition. Since I had been training almost non-stop since January my body was starting to protest the daily grind. I had aches and pains all over my body. I was covered with bruises like a first time paintball player. I recognized these signs as the first stage of overtraining. One of my biggest issues as an athlete is listening to my body when it is being worked too hard, I heard my body complaining and I told it to last through one final week of training before the Grand Prix. I have decided to honour my body by taking a week off training after the Grand Prix.
I made it downtown Richmond to the Quality Inn with my bag in hand and a new set of nerves flying around my stomach reminding me of my important task at hand. I always get nervous until I can see who I will be fencing. Once I see my pool I can begin to game-plan and visualize my day. I took my equipment to the Sheraton where the equipment check was being hosted. Everything checked out fine and I was able to take a look at the pool sheet to find my opponents. I remember a calming adrenaline rushing over me as I read the name of my opponents. Eager, I returned to my hotel room where I met up with my travel buddy and compatriot, Pascal Heidecker. We caught up and discussed our pools. We were both pretty happy with the opponents we drew, they weren’t easy but they never really are. I studied my opponents as much as I could for the rest of the night, even doing video analysis while eating my pre-game pizza at Boston Pizza. I felt confident in the game-plans I had laid out for each opponent, you never really know how your opponent is going to fence, but I find it helpful to have a basic strategy before starting the match. I returned to the hotel and double checked all my equipment, and after I felt confident I made a Skype call to my wife. There is nobody else who can motivate me like my wife can. She supports me and pushes me to achieve my best. She knows exactly what to say and the perfect time to say it. I thought I was in a good mindset before talking with Carson, but I felt like a whole new beast by the time we ended the call. It was my opportunity to gain some ground and I was going to make it count. I crawled into bed with my headphones on and I listened to my favourite pump-up jam while visualizing every bout I would have to fence the next day before falling asleep.
The Grand Prix
There were two flights of pools, one starting at 10:00AM and the other at 12:00AM. I was part of the second flight so I had a lot of time to get centered. Pascal fenced in the first flight so I went with him to the venue. I did a quick warm-up around 9:00AM just to loosen up and take a physical inventory on any tight or aching muscles. I felt strong. I went to cheer Pascal on, and about halfway through his pool I left to go do my real warm-up. I skipped, did my footwork, did some dynamic stretches, and finally fenced with some Canadians before grabbing my gear and heading to the strip that I would be fencing on.
My first bout of the tournament was against Dylan French from Canada. Dylan is a young fencer with an incredible amount of potential. I knew that Dylan was very strong with his parries so my game-plan was to draw out his attacks and beat him on counter-attacks and attacks into his preparation. I started the match with a long distance until I could figure out the distance he was comfortable with. Once I found his preferred distance, I moved in and out of his range to try and bait him into an action. It didn’t take long before Dylan went to test my defenses, he came forward with an attack but I was expecting it so I parried his blade and landed a quick riposte to his chest for the first touch of the match. I saw that Dylan was preferring to stick with high-line parries so my next action I set up a toe shot that put me ahead 2-0. Dylan quickened his footwork pace and he began to pressure me. I had the feeling he was looking for second intention with a parry riposte, so I decided attacking him was unnecessary. I was going to look for him to get too close before I would attack so that I could secure a double touch in the worst case scenario. I used that tactic to score the next three touches in a row to win the match. I was very impressed with Dylan’s fencing, it will be awesome to watch him improve to be one of Canada’s best.
The second match for me was against Sergey Bida from Russia. I had asked fellow Canadian, Vincent Pelletier, for advice regarding Bida. Vincent’s advice was simply, “Don’t fence French-grip against Bida.” For me this was great, because I can’t effectively fence French-grip. Using Vincent’s advice I had the game-plan to keep the match close with Bida and look for an opening on his hand as my only means of offense. Bida has exceptional blade work and I knew I didn’t want to play into his strength. Bida began the match pressing me into my end of the strip. He was quite aggressive early on and that turned into my advantage when I was able to score two hits in a row on direct counter-attacks on his lunge. Bida seemed frustrated so I knew I had a chance to surprise him. I let the third action begin much the same way as the first two, but before Bida could attack I launched an attack aiming at his hand first, before finishing to the body. To my surprise Bida was expecting my attack, luckily for me I was able to angle my blade in such a way that I hit him at the same time as his riposte. I decided to stick with what was working and just wait for counter-attacks. Bida charged off the line for the next action but I was ready and secured another double touch to bring the score 4-2 in my favour. I wanted to take a risk to score the last touch and I figured the best action would be an attack where I pump my arm to avoid his parries. I drew Bida backwards, and as he stepped forward I lunged with my arm fully extended, I pumped my arm back as he searched for my blade and then I finished my attack to his leg. I was very happy my plan worked out and brought me my second win of the day.
My third match was against the Dominican Republic’s Jose Rafael Lockhuart Guerrero. He is a very fast fencer and pretty well rounded. My plan was to keep with what had been working, a counter-offensive game. I had trouble gauging his distance which resulted in two double touches because I was not able to get out of his distance fast enough, while still being in distance enough to score my own point. He was aggressive and I could feel that he was confident. I felt like I needed to give him a reason to respect my fencing. I feinted a shot to his toe, he reacted with a parry and a small step backwards. That information told me he was looking for me to attack, so I decided I needed to distract him. I needed him to be focused on hitting me and not defending himself. I became more active with my blade work, I made small engagements on his blade before feinting an attack to his wrist, leg or foot. I wanted to show him a number of openings that he could attack into, hoping it would shift his focus into attacking. I made one more feint at his foot, he reacted by bringing his front foot back just a bit and loading his weight on his back leg. That told me that he was done protecting himself, he was ready to attack. I began with a fleche aimed for his stomach. I assumed he would counter-attack my arm because it was such a big opening so I brought my blade to the high-line and swept into an octave bind while hitting his chest with my point. Only up by one point I decided to sit back and see what he would throw at me because I wasn’t confident in setting up another attack. In hindsight, that was a bad plan. My opponent came forward searching for my blade and I tried to evade his blade and score. I wasn’t able to get out of his blade’s way and he made a beautiful parry-riposte on my attack to tie the score at three hits each. Lockhuart Guerrero came forward quite quickly off the line for the next action and all I remember from that action is I panicked and somehow scored a double touch. I’m sorry, but I couldn’t tell you what actually happened! I was determined to win, and I knew I couldn’t let my opponent set up his own action. Before the start of the final touch I had decided I would launch a straight quick attack to his toe without any preparation. As soon as the ref began the action, I took a few small steps forward to get into my distance and I exploded forward catching my opponent sleeping. I hit the tip of his toe to score the final touch on my third victory!
My fourth match was against Andras Horanyi from the USA. He used to be a top American foil fencer, but he switched over to epee and has had a huge amount of success since the change. My game-plan was to attack in his preparation because of his foil background. Often times, foilists have a pretty big preparation on their attacks which works great in foil, but creates too big of an opening in epee. I was able to take advantage of this opening to score my first three points before switching to creating my own attacks. Andras was able to score on two of those actions (double touches). My fourth touch was an extremely lucky touch, one which would be near impossible to duplicate. Andras baited out an attack of mine and he came forward with a big parry that he turned into a flick on my back, somehow I was able to flick around his guard and hit his arm just as he hit my back. I would easily say that Andras would score that touch 99 out of 100 attempts, somehow I was able to snake out a double. At 4-3 I wanted to take a risk just as I had in my other matches, so I prepared my attack with a lot of quarte beats and feints to his body before doing a septime beat to his blade and dropping down to hit his foot. With four victories in my pocket I was sitting in a great place.
My last match was against Niko Vuorinen of Finland. He has had an amazing season so far and I knew it would be my hardest match. I wanted to win all of them, so I was quite determined for the match. Vuorinen is very tall and really hard to predict. My game-plan was to sit just out of distance and use counter-attacks to try and keep the match low. I wanted to find his timing so I could effectively fleche into his preparation. Vuorinen opened the scoring with a direct lunge to the bottom of my hand, I thought his attack was going to the top of my hand so I made a parry that exposed the bottom of my hand to be hit. A well-played attack from Vuorinen. I vowed to not fall for that again. I kept in mind the angle his arm was at when he launched his attack and I was pretty sure that I would be able to get a hit on his arm the next time he came forward. I waited for my opportunity and when Vuorinen attacked, his arm was nowhere to be found! I had placed my tip where I thought his arm was going to be, but I doubt I was very close. He scored an easy touch to my leg. I felt like I needed to change the pace of the game so I tried to take over the footwork. I usually find that people are willing to give me the footwork because I push a pretty hard pace to match, but Vuorinen didn’t care that I was moving faster. He stepped in on one of my advances and I tried to grab his blade and score with a fleche but Vuorinen disengaged my parry and scored a single touch. I was down three touches and nothing I was doing was working. I decided to prepare a double prise de fer starting with octave and finishing in quarte. I was anticipating a disengage from Vuorinen. I found my timing and began my attack, I secured his blade in octave and as I felt him disengaging I quickly carried through and took his blade in quarte before finishing to his chest for my first and only touch of the match. I wanted to do another attack like that, but on my preparation for my next action Vuorinen caught my timing and scored with a beat lunge to my arm. Vuorinen’s final touch was a simple beat-disengage fleche right off the line. He knew I needed to parry so putting in a last second disengage on his attack was a brilliant way to secure his victory.
I was happy with my pool round, I finished with four wins and one loss which was good enough to skip me straight through to the second day and a finish in the top 64! I stretched and recovered with a refreshing drink of chocolate milk before leaving the venue to head back to the hotel. Of the 17 Canadians that started fencing only three of us were left, Pascal Heidecker, Hugues Boisvert-Simard, and myself.
Grand Prix Day 2
My opponent in the round of 64 was Peter Somfai from Hungary. Somfai is a multiple grand prix and world cup medalist and one of the best epeeists from Hungary. He is a very calm and patient fencer who favours flick attacks and attacks to the foot. I had done my analysis the night before and I decided on taking a risk early in our match to try to steal a lead. I was then going to try to sit back and keep the score low and only attack when I felt very confident. I knew I was outclassed in the technique department, so I wanted to make the match scrappy and rely more on my physical conditioning and explosiveness to score hits.
The match began and Somfai was pretty static in his movement. I felt I had a chance at hitting his foot, so that was the risk I was going to take. I went for his foot and missed, but before I could recover Somfai hit my foot! It was so quick that I felt it must’ve been planned! So much for my plan of scoring an early touch and holding on to the lead. After a double touch from his attack into my preparation I saw an opening that I felt I could score. I saw he would only respond to my feints if I came forward with an exposed arm. If I feinted with flicks he wouldn’t react. I advanced forward and feinted with a flick to his wrist that I turned into a lunging attack to his leg. I felt I had scored a beautiful touch, but to my surprise the only light that was on was his. I had the ref check my point and he confirmed that my blade was working. I shrugged the hit off and kept fighting. I pressured Somfai and looked to set up attacks, but he was so good at hitting me before I could get any momentum generated for an attack. Before I knew it, the score was 6-2 in his favour and we were in the second period. I made another attack to Somfai’s foot which I felt certain I scored, but again my light did not come on. I opted to change weapons there immediately after the hit. I threw my entire arsenal at Somfai, but he barely flinched when the kitchen sink hit him. I was outclassed and outplayed. Somfai won the match 15-6.
That loss serves as a reminder that I still have a lot of work to do.
Overall I was pretty happy with my result. My goal was to better my result from last year and I did. Last year I finished 43rd and this year I finished 42nd. The points earned from this tournament moved me into 3rd place in Canada. There are two tournaments left this season that count towards points for Team Canada, Paris and Berne. I will be going to Paris but I will not fight in Berne. I’m looking forward to training and finishing my world cup season strong with a great performance in Paris!
Thanks for reading, if you have any comments, questions, or requests please feel free to let me know in the comment box below!