A New Personal Best: 5th at a North American Cup!

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My coach John Brunning and I after receiving my medal for 5th place!

Portland

On the 12th of October I had my first major competition of the 2014-2015 fencing season, a North American Cup held in Portland.

I flew out on Friday, which gave me all of Saturday to rest and get ready for the first counter towards making Team Canada. I arrived at my hotel in the mid afternoon, and after having a shower I unpacked my laptop and got down to some serious video gaming. My teammate, Jean-Luc D’Eon, arrived a little later and we embarked on a search for a place to eat. Our hotel was right near a very cool street that had restaurants, pubs, coffee shops, and grocery stores lined up on both sides. We walked only a few blocks before we found a nice pasta place to tie over our tumultuous tummies. The food was great and the company was excellent. I feel it is always important for me to put myself in a positive environment before a competition. After supper, Jean-Luc and I made our plan of attack for our next day as we walked back to our hotel for a night of rest.

Saturday came after a magnificent sleep, which is something I don’t get that often. I get Saturdays every week, but a magnificent sleep is once in a blue moon. Jean-Luc and I went to the continental breakfast and deemed it sufficient for our pre-competition meal which is a very important thing to have planned out. We lazily took our time getting ready before heading to the venue to buy some equipment, cheer on some Canadians, and visualize success.

Upon arriving at the venue I felt a stroke of familiarity. I have a pretty rocky memory, but when I walked into the Oregon Convention Center a previous tournament had flashed before my eyes. I had already competed here! I was trying to think back to what year it was that I had been in Portland, but I couldn’t pin point it.  I could, however, remember my result and the match that I had lost to knock me out. I finished in the top 64, losing to Ben Bratton from the USA by a score of 15-5. The score might as well have been 15-0. It was that match that I saw what a fencer could be, and it truly inspired me to push myself harder.

I purchased the necessary equipment, and touched base with friends that I very rarely see. Once I was feeling comfortable at the venue I put on my shorts and workout shirt, and did my warm-up. I got a feel for the lights, the strip beneath my feet, the noises, and my nerves. I was nervous. The first couple competitions of the year are always unnerving for me, because I am not used to my routine and I don’t know what to expect. The nerves are a good thing, they tell me that this is important and I need to take it seriously. I know, through past experiences, if I just go through my motions of warming up and visualizing, the nerves will turn into confidence. Once Jean-Luc and I were done our warm ups we caught a cab back to our hotel where we would relax (AKA video games) before hitting up a pizza shop for my pre-competition pizza and wine dinner. I felt excited and ready to see what I could do before falling asleep Saturday night.

Competition Day

I showered, ate my breakfast and took a cab to the venue. I knew how my morning would go and everything went exactly to plan. I warmed up fully, and I was firing on all cylinders. I was ready to make some victims when I was assigned to my pool.

Pools

Pool strips were announced and I headed over to my strip and immediately began my visualization process. I stood on one end of the strip and stared down to the opposite end. I pictured my opponent hooking up and coming to the start line to fence me. I pictured the ref testing our equipment, and I pictured my first win. I didn’t have too much time to go deep into the visualization, because our ref had shown up and requested we show him that our equipment had been approved for competition. I took a look at the pool sheet and I recognized only one name, Brian Ro. I couldn’t remember when I had fenced Ro, but I did remember that he beat me. I remembered he had blinding speed, a great flick to the wrist, and an even better toe shot. I was excited for a chance to redeem myself and beat him.

My toughest match wasn’t against Ro, it was my first match against Cramerus. He was shorter than me and not long into the match I found that I was much quicker. What Cramerus did have, was very good technique coupled with a fighter’s spirit. His fencing reminded me a lot of top American fencer, Jonathan Yergler. Cramerus’ posture was very upright, he was always balanced and he didn’t once overextend for an action or reach to the target. I got an early lead with a foot shot right out of the gate, and I was very confident in my movement. I looked to set up a fleche attack, and in my preparation I noticed that he was parrying every feint I made. This told me I needed to start my attack, wait for the parry, then disengage it and drive my tip into his chest. I pushed Cramerus back and launched my attack, I disengaged the parry successfully, but he was able to counter-attack me at the same time my tip landed to score a double. I was surprised that he was able to get his point on target that quick. I figured I would save that fleche action until I needed it because I was pretty sure I could score a double touch in the worst case scenario. I relinquished footwork control and let Cramerus dictate the distance and the pace. I wanted to stay ready and balanced for when he would initiate his attack, and I felt that because of my speed advantage this would be easy. Cramerus always began his actions by beating my blade out of the way in some form. Each time he came forward was different than the last and I was getting frustrated that he wasn’t showing me a pattern or something that I could use against him. I looked to disengage his beats, but the result each time Cramerus committed to an action was a double. Since the score was 4-3 and I was getting frustrated with him in control of the footwork, I decided to set up the fleche I had used for my second point to finish the match. I didn’t care that there was a good chance he would score too, because a double touch meant my victory. I jumped in and out of distance while feinting to the high-line and mid-line looking for Cramerus to start trying to find my blade when I pounced forward. It didn’t take long before Cramerus gave me the prerequisites for my attack and I exploded at him with a feint, disengage and my final touch of the match. I was a bit too nervous for that match, and it felt really good to get the win and calm those nerves.

My match against Brian Ro was a very fast-paced one. I had watched Ro in his other matches and noticed that if he was given time to set up his attacks he was very accurate and easily scored. My strategy going into the match was to put constant pressure on him and make him move around. If he didn’t have control over where I was, I hoped he wouldn’t be able to hit me. I was looking to make the bout a little chaotic because I would be in control of the distance and as long as I stayed balanced I would be able to use my explosion to strike whenever I wanted. The result was a match that lasted no longer than 40 seconds. Ro would look to close the distance with flicks to my hand so when I was out of distance, I would pop forward with a large step followed by a body feint hoping Ro would throw out a flick to my arm. If Ro attempted the flick I would wait for the flick to miss before using a fleche to close the distance and score before he could fully recover from his failed attack. I don’t recall in what order the hits were scored, but I clearly remember my plan was successful. To add variety to the match I attempted a couple shots to his foot from too far away to see his reaction. Every time I attempted a foot shot, he hopped back with a counter-attack to my wrist. I saw that was very dangerous and I knew not to commit to a foot shot. After a few scoring fleche attacks I could see where Ro’s hand would be when he threw his flicks out and I figured I could hit him on the bottom of his hand as he started his flick. I did this twice, but on both times his flick also landed to score a double touch. I was very confident I could score singles in that scenario, but I underestimated Ro’s accuracy. My winning point wasn’t part of my plan, I had actually hopped too far forward in an attempt to provoke Ro’s flick and instead of flicking he came at me with an advance-lunge. Somehow I was able to retreat far enough away in a panic and score a counter-attack to his wrist. My confidence went through the roof after that match and it set me up for my day of success.

Direct Elimination

I finished the pools ranked tied for 10th with 100% victories and a +16 indicator. This meant that I had a good seed and a bye through the first round. In the interest of keeping this blog a readable length, I’m going to skim over most of my elimination matches. My first match was against fellow compatriot, Sam Kardaal, who I dispatched 15-6. My next match was against Luboslav Jelev. I was leading Jelev 14-4 going into the second period and in an attempt to close out the match I tried rushing Jelev to score the final touch. The result was a mini-comeback for Jelev and a final score of 15-9. My first match of the top 32 was against Peregrine Badger. Badger presented some problems that I hadn’t experienced before, but I was able to deal with them winning the match 15-12.

My next bout was against Dylan Nollner. I am very proud of this match as I felt my hard work and training really came out.

I opened the match with a foot shot to establish a lead I would never lose. My next attack resulted in a double touch when Nollner parried my initial attempt, but I was able to renew my attack and score at the same time as his riposte. I felt great, I had a lot of energy and I was certainly moving well. My third hit was a failed toe-shot that I recovered into a ducking counter-attack when Nollner tried to fleche at me. Everything felt so right. It didn’t matter what Nollner tried to do, I felt ready to deal with it. I ended the first period with a 6-2 lead. At the period break, my coach reminded me to maintain my technical discipline and keep prepared. There was no need to change anything as we had a strong lead and everything was working.

The second period started strong for Nollner, he caught me sleeping with a beautiful fleche that left me a little stunned. He pulled the score within two after scoring a flick to my arm in my preparation. I decided to take over the pressure and I pushed Nollner back to his side of the strip. I noticed that when I would feint, he would take a very small step back and slightly load his legs. I figured he was waiting for me to commit, he would move just far enough to avoid my attack and then he would launch an attack of his own from the perfect distance with perfect balance. Since he wasn’t going to take a large step back I felt it was safe for me to set up a fleche. I prepared the attack with a low feint followed by a high feint before exploding forward and driving my point into his chest.Portland_1

 I scored on another fleche that I got lucky on because Nollner parried my action but missed his riposte. I took the point without any complains like a every fencer should. Nollner applied pressure and pushed me back into my end for the next action. I was trying to provoke him into attacking by using body feints from a closer distance. Nollner bit on one of the feints, but instead of parrying I saw an opening and counter-attacked for my ninth touch. I could feel Nollner’s frustration and it was very motivating. I felt that no matter what he did I would be able to handle it and score. Nollner, unwilling to give up, pushed forward and lined me up for his fifth touch with a flick on my arm on my attack. Nollner advanced off the line to ensure the action stayed in my end where he was most successful. I saw an opening for a foot shot and I took it, but my unfortunate miss resulted in a single touch for him when he drove his tip into my shoulder upon my recovery. He had scored two hits in a row, but I wasn’t rattled. I still wanted Nollner to bring the action to me, I just had to make sure that if I was going to risk starting an action that it was on my terms and not his. Nollner relentlessly pressed onward, he was determined to take control of the match. He got within striking distance and exploded forward with a fleche of his own. I used my long reach to counter-attack and secure a double touch to put the score at 10-7 in my favour. I knew my opponent was going to come forward, so I planned to look for an opening where I could surprise him on his step forward. I succeeded and scored my 11th touch.

Portland_2

Nollner, not wanting to get caught off guard again, gave me the footwork control and we marched into his end. I pushed him back and lined up to the left side of the strip with the intention to feint attacks to his six line to create an opening to his foot. I don’t know why I strayed from that plan, but I launched a lunge that resulted in a double touch to pull me closer to securing another win. It was clear that Nollner was much more successful against me when he was pushing me into my end of the strip, so that is exactly what he did. He made me move backwards and, without much preparation, he threw out a flick to my arm that landed. I was close to victory, but I still had to be ready for anything. Continuing with allowing Nollner to move me to my end, I opened the distance to remove the option of his short lunges with flicks. Nollner didn’t care and he flew forward with a fleche. I retreated with a parry but he scored on a remise before I could sink my riposte in. At 12-10, I still wasn’t worried. I had the plan to let him push me back but I would look to surprise him again. Nollner came forward and I found my moment, I lunged forward and my light was the only light to come on. I tried to make the movement more dynamic in hopes for an opportunity to fleche, but it was a bad idea to attempt that so late in the match. We bounced around and I closed the distance quickly with a beat on his blade before trying to score, but Nollner was ready and he counter-attacked after the beat on his blade to score a single touch of his own. I wanted to take over the footwork and control where on the strip the action would take place. I couldn’t take over the footwork because Nollner would not retreat. Instead he came forward with a short lunge, I exploded forward the moment his lunge missed and scored my 14th touch.

Portland_3

Victory was well within my reach, but I still had to score one more touch. Nollner wasn’t ready to give up and he pushed onward to score on another short lunge with a flick. I wanted to take control of my fate and score the last action so I debated between a fleche or hitting his foot. I knew that he wasn’t going to retreat so both options were viable. I couldn’t decide, so I kept them in the back of my mind and whichever opportunity presented itself I would take. Only a few seconds after the action started, I saw my chance to strike at his foot and I secured victory moving me into the top 12!

The Top 12

I’m sitting in Switzerland right now writing this blog. I’ve used up all the free time I could spare to write this, but I’m going to have to skim over the rest of the competition because there is a bear zoo I want to see!

My next match in the top 12 was against Ben Bratton, the man who had crushed me the last time I was in Portland. I fared a little bit better but I was again destroyed, this time by a score of 15-7. I had a rocky start and I couldn’t figure out how to solve Bratton’s lightning quick speed and intensity. I have a few ideas of what to do next time I meet him.

After losing to Bratton, I had another chance through repachage to make it into the top 8. I had to fence against Darius Zacharakis. Unfortunately for Zacharakis, his hamstring seized after my first touch and his mobility was extremely limited for the entirety of the 15-6 blowout. I felt really bad that I had to destroy an injured opponent like that, but it was his choice to stand in my way.

My final match of the day was a loss to Jimmy Moody. I was completely outclassed. Nothing I tried worked, and Moody had a very similar approach to that of Bratton. The result was 15-7 for Moody. I had two strong actions that I remember, both were fleches. Other than those two fleches everything I attempted Moody had an answer for. It was a disappointing finish to a very long and fun day. I have watched the film of the match and it is hard to see me struggle that hard. I know there is valuable information in there, but I won’t be addressing it until December when I have some free time to look back on the good and bad things from this tournament. I am happy with finishing 5th.

Look forward to another (less wordy) blog after Switzerland!!!

 

/leland

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