Fleche to the Finish: A Venezuelan Victory

 

Men’s Epee Olympic Gold Medal Match

 

On day 5 of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, UK, fencing fans around the world were graced with the final match of the men’s individual epee tournament. The fencers competing for Olympic gold were Ruben Limardo Gascon of Venezuela and Bartosz Piasecki of Norway. Piasecki entered the tournament as the 47th seed, a significant underdog to winning Olympic gold. Men’s epee has a very deep talent pool and Piasecki fought through many tough opponents to reach the finals. Piasecki won the semi-final match over bronze medalist Jinsun Jung of Korea with a final score of 15-13. Piasecki fenced intelligently and consistently to secure his chance for Olympic gold. Ruben Limardo had, quite possibly, the hardest draw of the tournament. Limardo overcame 5th seed Max Heinzer (SUI), 3rd seed and current world champion Paolo Pizzo (ITA) and 20th seed Seth Kelsey (USA) to advance and earn his spot in the final match. History was set to be made as neither a Venezuelan nor a Norwegian men’s epeeist had medaled at the Olympics. Piasecki’s best personal result at a championship came at the Catania World Championships in the 2010-2011 season where Piasecki finished 26th. Limardo placed 7th at the same World Championships. If Limardo were to win Olympic gold he would join the likes of Russian elite epeeist Pavel Kolobkov as the only epeeists to win Junior World Championships and win an Olympic gold medal. Limardo won the Junior World Championships in Linz, Austria, in the 2004-2005 season.

The gold medal bout began with both fencers finding their opponent’s rhythm and tendencies. Limardo was very active early on in the match, he looked to score touches on Piasecki’s foot and hand but it was Piasecki who drew figurative first blood. Piasecki lunged into Limardo; his attack was parried but Piasecki continued the attack and scored a touch on Limardo’s leg. It took Limardo just 17 seconds to set up a fleche (running attack) to tie the score at one each. In the next action Limardo attempted a flick to Piasecki’s hand. Though the shot missed, Limardo continued his attack to Piasecki’s chest to score his first point. Unhappy with the score being tied, Piasecki applied pressure and forced Limardo into his end of the pisté (strip the athletes fence on). Predicting that Limardo would attempt to parry, Piasecki extended his arm to lure Limardo’s parry but Piasecki pulled back just as Limardo went for the parry. Once Limardo had missed the blade trying to parry, Piasecki lunged into Limardo to, once again, take the lead. Limardo wasn’t going to let Piasecki hold onto the lead for very long. Only 11 seconds after Piasecki’s touch, Limardo advanced and executed a perfectly time fleche directly into Piasecki’s chest. Piasecki attempted to counter-attack, but he could not reach his target in time for a touch. This was a sign of things to come in the gold medal match; Limardo was utilizing his area of excellence and his world renowned fleche. The next touch was an unexpected one from Limardo. Limardo feigned an attack, but then did a quick retreat as Piasecki attempted a counter-attack; Limardo scored with a stop hit on Piasecki’s arm. The final point of the first period was a double caused by Limardo initiating a direct fleche and Piasecki successfully counter-attacking. The first period ended 4 – 3 for Venezuela’s Ruben Limardo. The match was too close to call at the end of the first period as both Limardo and Piasecki were scoring when they initiated an attack.

At the start of the second period Limardo approached the en garde line with a very serious demeanor; he was ready. Focus and determination was written all over Limardo’s face. Limardo’s movement was very fluent after starting the second period and he appeared more confident than he had during the first period. Piasecki attempted an attack that was similar to the one he used to score his second point; he extended his arm and pulled back when he expected Limardo to parry. However, Limardo did not parry the attack; instead Limardo exploded forward and surprised Piasecki with a signature fleche. Presumably stunned by Limardo’s change in tactics, Piasecki initiated the exact same attack and found the exact same result; Limardo executed another fleche just as Piasecki pulled his arm back. The score was 6 – 3 with Limardo carrying heavy momentum early on in the second period. Piasecki continued to force Limardo back on the pisté and again initiated an attack that resulted in Limardo scoring with a perfectly timed fleche. It was clear that Limardo was simply waiting for Piasecki to begin an attack before launching his world class fleche. Piasecki took the initiative again and attacked to Limardo’s arm. Though Piasecki executed with the correct timing, he missed the attack which opened himself up for Limardo to score with another fleche. The score was a commanding 8-3 for Limardo.

Moments later Limardo mixed up the action and attacked from a long distance with a beat fleche, finishing to Piasecki’s chest. In this case Piasecki was able to get his arm out and score a double with his counter-attack. Piasecki was not willing to allow Limardo to take control of the match so Piasecki went back to work applying pressure and forcing Limardo to the back of the pisté. Piasecki switched to using a second-intention set up from out of distance, aiming to draw Limardo’s fleche so a parry-riposte could be used to score a touch. However, as Piasecki extended his arm for the feint, Limardo was quick enough to beat Piasecki’s blade and finish to the chest with, you guessed it, a fleche. Leading 10 – 4, Limardo had no problem settling for double touches, he had already scored on five attempted fleche attacks with seemingly no answer from Piasecki. Limardo initiated two fleche attacks, which Piasecki counter-attacked successfully to score two double touches to end the second period. At 12 – 6 for Limardo, the gold medal appeared to be within the Venezuelan’s reach. Piasecki had three minutes, stop time, to mount a comeback of epic proportions to become the first Norwegian men’s epee fencer to win an Olympic gold. Limardo clearly did not need to change his game plan as he scored on all seven attempted fleche attacks.  Piasecki had to dig deep and solve this Venezuelan puzzle.

Limardo wasted absolutely no time picking up where he left off, scoring with a direct fleche just five seconds into the third period. Piasecki was caught off guard and responded with a surprised counter-attack. Six seconds later, Limardo did the exact same attack. The score was 14-6 with 2:48 left in the third and final period of the men’s epee gold medal match. Piasecki maintained composure and did not back down to the explosive Venezuelan. Piasecki performed a great attack that hit Limardo before he could even begin to fleche in reply. Eager to finish the bout, Limardo initiated a fleche out of distance. Piasecki had enough time to counter-attack while opposing Limardo’s blade, which slid off and missed Piasecki’s torso. With two single touches in a row for Piasecki it seemed a comeback was possible, though unlikely. Limardo settled down and looked for his opportunity to fleche. Limardo executed the correct timing for his next fleche, but Piasecki parried the attack and scored before Limardo could redirect his point for the winning touch. That touch was Piasecki’s third consecutive single. Still with only one point left to win gold, Limardo wasn’t ready to change his game plan. Piasecki pressed forward and launched an impressive attack, evading Limardo’s parry for Piasecki’s fourth point in an impressive comeback. Unfortunately for Piasecki, that would be the last point he would earn on Limardo. Three seconds passed after Piasecki’s 10th touch before Limardo performed the perfect point; the gold medal winning fleche. Piasecki attempted to counter-attack but was unable to score. The stadium erupted in cheers as Limardo ran around celebrating. Limardo had done it. He had become the first Venezuelan to medal at the Olympics in men’s epee, and he joined the ranks of Pavel Kolobkov as the only two fencers to win Junior World Championships and an Olympic gold medal. Piasecki was pleased and proud to finish second, and become the first Norwegian to head home with a 2012 Olympic medal.  Both fencers were very exciting to watch throughout the competition, both overcame tough adversaries and put on an amazing display in the final match. Congratulations to both fencers for the respective accomplishments!

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