A brand new season!!!!
If you’ve been following me this summer, you know that I’ve been working extremely hard to prevent a finish like last year. For those of you who don’t know, I missed qualification to represent Team Canada by one match at Nationals. If I had won that, I would’ve went to the Pan Am Championships and World Championships to represent Canada. I was heart broken, but not deterred.
I spent most of this summer getting stronger, leaner, more flexible, and I’m currently in the best shape of my entire life. This past weekend was my first opportunity since Nationals to compete and test out my new physical attributes.
A few days before the competition, a large blister had formed on the bottom of my left foot (my back foot that I push off of in fencing) and I was in so much pain I couldn’t walk. The blister had been bothering me for a couple weeks prior, but I refused to stop training to take care of it. I was paying the price for my mistake. I took a couple of days off before the competition just to rest it enough to try to compete on it. I won’t post the picture here, but if you’re into gruesome things like giant blisters send me an e-mail and I’ll show you the monstrosity that was plaguing my movements.
The competition was small as all of our Provincial tournaments are, but the talent pool is very good considering the turnout of just 13 competitors. Three of those 13 finished in the top eight at the previous Canadian Nationals.
My pool consisted of Riley Norman from Alberta, Saskatchewan residents Zachary Beasley, Justin Neumeyer, Ian Pederson, and Elliot Dillabough. I had fun shaking the cobwebs off and getting back into the competitive spirit. I always find it amazing how the first tournament of the year is always the most stressful. I get so excited to fence, I don’t remember how the nerves feel, and I’m eager to fight my heart out. Fortunately, everything fell into place and I won all of my pool bouts and finished as the first seed after pools.
My first elimination match was against Kieran Ramaswami from Saskatoon. I train with him on a regular basis, so we both know each other pretty well. Kieran took an early lead due to some technique issues I was having. I wasn’t getting my hand high enough when attacking to block out Kieran’s greatly timed counter-attacks, and my beat attacks were fairly sloppy which resulted in me missing my target and giving Kieran an easy target to hit. I decided halfway through the first period to just sit back and get my feet under me and let Kieran make the mistakes for a change. That strategy switch was the correct move to make because Kieran overextended on a couple lunges which I had no difficulty dealing with. At the end of the first period I had pulled ahead with an 8-6 lead. At the start of the second period Kieran was lining up on my right side, so I moved to my left to set up second-intention actions to catch his blade when he counter-attacked. Lining up so far away enabled me to use my six parry effectively, and it eliminated the risk of him attacking to anything but my arm/shoulder. I baited out an attack from him which I easily parried in six before flicking his wrist for my riposte. I tried to bait out the same attack again, but Kieran switched from counter-attacks to a straight defensive approach. I used his switch against him by feinting to the outside of his hand, disengaging his parry and then lunging into his chest. If he had counter-attacked he certainly would’ve scored the point. I stuck with this tactic until I was victorious winning 15-11.
I felt strong, I felt fast, and my blister wasn’t hurting me at all! I had one more match to make it into the finals and I had the hunger to win.
My semi-final match was against Zachary Beasley from Regina. He is a tall fencer with good balance and a very calm approach. I find it very difficult to get him wound up enough to make large parries so I have to opt for a more subtle approach of beat attacks and off-tempo toe touches. I was feeling on my game and by the end of the first period I had taken a 9-1 lead with a mixture of direct fleche attacks, toe shots and beat attacks to the wrist. During the period break I overheard that Zach was working on his distance against me so, being the kind gentleman that I am, I decided I would play at his distance and give him what he was looking for. I let Zachary dictate the distance, and I gave him an opening to my arm but as soon as he went for it I took it away and scored a touch of my own. Such a gentleman. Normally I don’t like to play around with my meals, but Zach and I have a good relationship and I wanted to make him work hard for his touches. To his credit, he surprised me on two actions that I was not expecting at all. One of those actions I got lucky when Zach’s tip soared just past my wrist. The other action was a beautiful two-time attack that Zach landed on my hand when I opened up to parry him. I continued to give him openings to my wrist and taking them away when he began his actions, and I was able to finish the bout with a score of 15-3. Zach hasn’t been fencing all that long but he continues to show huge signs of improvement and it is clear to see he wants it.
With the win over Zachary it secured my spot in the final against Jean-Luc D’Eon who had defeated William Brooke (Nationals Silver Medalist) by a score of 15-14. William had the lead at 14-12, but Jean-Luc was able to maintain composure and come back for the win.
The Gold Medal Match
I was still feeling great and my blister hadn’t bothered me at all. I was very confident that if my blister could hold up, I would be able to walk away with Gold. I opened the match with a direct attack to Jean-Luc’s foot to let him know that I was serious and I wanted the win. We rallied back and forth for distance, and when I felt the time was right I pushed off my back leg to try and fleche. As soon as I pushed off my back foot, I felt a sharp pain at the bottom of my foot telling me that my blister was not fully healed. I was worried, I could barely put any weight on my foot but I knew I needed to fight through. In that moment of mental distraction Jean-Luc was able to pull a 4-1 lead on me. Jean-Luc is very dangerous to attack, so my worry compounded a little bit. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was not present and not focusing on what my opponent was doing. The first period ended with Jean-Luc leading at 6-3. I took the period break to regroup myself and focus on the match.
At the start of the second period I took over footwork control and I worked to set up attacks from a long distance looking to make him uncomfortable enough to attack me. In that process he gave me two openings that I took advantage of to bring the score within one. I was moving a lot better and I was adjusting to the pain in my foot from the blister. I relinquished footwork control in hopes that Jean-Luc would get impatient and attack me but after a while I noticed he was just waiting for my attack so from a long distance I launched a foot shot that tied the score up at six hits each.
I then took the lead with a very subtle parry-riposte, but Jean-Luc quickly tied the match up. At this point my foot was killing me and I was having to regroup after every touch to stop focusing on the pain and keep focusing on my opponent. I know how to score double touches on Jean-Luc so my plan became to fight for doubles until we were around 10 hits each. I figured that I would be sort of fast-forwarding the match so that I could save my foot for the hits that really mattered. I realize this isn’t a very safe plan, but at the time I was very confident in it. Jean-Luc and I exchanged points until we were tied at 12. I took a moment to dig down and fight the pain. I knew I had three touches to go to win and I was going to make them count. I scored my 13th touch drawing an attack out and blocking his blade out in parry four. My 14th touch I pushed Jean-Luc to the end of his piste with long attacks that didn’t land and when I had him at the end I did a simple body feint looking to provoke a counter-attack, and when the counter attack came I grabbed his blade in octave (parry eight) and held onto his blade while landing my riposte. I had one more touch to go and I felt that there was no way I wasn’t going to score it. Jean-Luc pushed me back into my end, and when I felt him give up footwork control I flew forward with a feinted fleche expecting a counter-attack from Jean-Luc. I searched for his blade but it was no where to be found, he had retreated so I pressed the action. I made use of a small step followed by a large step to cloak my intentions of a long attack to his leg, and when I got within range of my target I exploded forward to secure my first Gold medal of the season!!
Overall it was a great tournament, with the exception of aggravating my blister. The blister was a really painful thing to work through, but it is good experience to adapt to the pain and fight through it. I feel this is excellent preparation for my upcoming World Cup season where I am committed to not only securing my spot on Team Canada, but finishing 1st in the Country.
Wish me luck.