Nanjing 2014: Favourites to the fore in men’s fencing
In the three individual men’s fencing events at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games, reigning world cadet champions and top seeds Ivan Ilin (sabre), Patrik Esztergalyos (epee) and Andrzej Rzadkowski (foil) all won gold medals. However, their dominance was curtailed in the mixed continental team event, however, where the Asia-Oceania sextet prevailed over the Europeans.
Ilin enjoys sabre triumph
Russia’s Ivan Ilin got the fencing competition off to an impressive start at the Nanjing International Expo on 17 August, adding the YOG sabre crown to the FIE Cadet World Championship title he claimed in Plovdiv earlier this year.
The event was notable for some early shocks, with Karol Metryka (USA) and Tudor Cocu (ROU), third and fourth in the world respectively, falling by the wayside in the Round of 16. Metryka, a bronze medallist at Plovdiv 2014, was knocked out by world number seven Nika Shengelia (GEO), while the Romanian was eliminated by Mostafa Ayman (EGY), 29th in the global rankings, by a score of 15 to 14.
Marios Giakoumatis (GRE), who finished second at the Cadet Worlds, followed suit in the subsequent round, losing to China’s Yan Yinghui, who would go on to defeat Tunisia’s Fares Ferjani 15-11 in the bronze medal bout.
“I’m really happy with the bronze. My coach and I didn’t actually set ourselves any big goals,” said the overjoyed Asian athlete. “We approached these Games like a training exercise, so I didn’t really feel under pressure.”
Ilin, who lived up to his status of pre-tournament favourite, comfortably negotiated his way through to the final, where he saw off Kim Dongju (KOR) 15-7. “It’s good to win another gold,” said the assertive Russian. “I think I deserve it, because I trained very hard for it, and I really wanted to succeed.”
Esztergalyos takes epee gold
The second day of fencing saw another cadet world champion, Patrik Esztergalyos (HUN), secure gold in the epee, but not before enduring certain difficulties along the way.
“I was nervous during the pool stage and I couldn’t understand why,” explained the talented epeeist. “I was lacking my usual flexibility and form. My coach then advised me to launch my attacks differently, and gradually I began to tell myself that I could win.”
Esztergalyos’ performances improved throughout the day, which culminated in his 15-8 victory over Sweden’s Linus Islas Flygare in the final. Flygare had upset the form book in the semi-final by knocking out Justin Yoo (USA), silver medallist at the Cadet World Championships.
“I was expecting to face someone else in the final,” admitted Esztergalyos. “I thought it would be Justin, but Linus beat him – I was pretty happy with that outcome.”
As for Flygare, he was content with his overall achievement. “I’m more satisfied that disappointed,” said the valiant runner-up. “Getting a major medal like this at the Youth Olympic Games is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Patrik is a fantastic fencer, and a world champion. But the way this sport works, I could just as easily have won.”
The men’s epee podium was completed by Russia’s Ivan Limarev, who beat Justin Yoo 15-14.
Rzadkowski prevails as IOC President looks on
The men’s foil event on 19 August followed similar lines, as Andrzej Rzadkowski (POL) repeated his Plovdiv success with a gold medal in Nanjing. In commanding form throughout the competition, he concluded with a hard-fought 15-13 victory over world number five Choi Chun Yin Ryan (HKG) in the final.
Among the interested observers in the enthusiastic crowd was IOC President Thomas Bach, who won an Olympic gold medal in the team foil contest at the Montreal Games in 1976. The German went on to be crowned individual world champion in Buenos Aires the following year.
In the battle for bronze, Enguerrand Roger (FRA) overcame a disastrous start, during which he trailed 5-0, to eventually triumph 15-11 against Seo Myeong Cheol (KOR).
“In two international competitions, I’ve now twice finished third,” noted Roger. “It’s obviously great to get a medal, but I would have preferred the gold.”
The dispirited Frenchman admitted to harbouring regrets about his 15-14 sudden-death loss to Choi in the semi-finals, a match in which he held a seemingly unassailable lead at one point. “I feel quite sad. The semi-final result was very tough to take. It was nice to be 14-8 up, but I made the mistake of telling myself I’d made it to the final, and that’s why I ended up losing. I was way too cautious on the final point,” he recounted.
Asia-Oceania spring final-day surprise
The curtain came down on the fencing competition on 20 August with an intriguing mixed continental team event, which was eventually won by ‘Asia-Oceania 1’, who defeated ‘Europe 1’ 30-26, despite the presence of six reigning world cadet champions in the European side.
The team tournament provided two silver medallists with a chance of redemption and revenge. In the men’s sabre, Kim Dongju pulled off a big surprise by getting the better of Ivan Ilin, to whom he had fallen in the individual event at the beginning of the week. Similarly, Choi Chun Yin Ryan defeated Andrzej Rzadkowski, who had emerged victorious from their clash in the individual foil final just 24 hours earlier.
“I told Kim Dongju that I would defend and that he could attack,” explained the Hong Kong native. “It’s quite interesting to form a team with other athletes, but the pressure is even more intense. I think that I’m physically stronger than my opponent [Rzadkowski], but I wasn’t able to take advantage of that in the individual event, and that’s why I had to settle for silver.
“Today, I showed him that I could beat him. He won the cadet world title and then the gold medal yesterday – this victory is therefore a hugely encouraging sign for me.”
Choi’s team-mate and compatriot Chien Kei Hsu Albert, meanwhile, was also delighted. “Ryan put in some excellent work. He’s brilliant. As for me, I just did what had to be done. The goal of this competition isn’t really a gold medal; it’s achieving success by working together in harmony with athletes who were previously your opponents.”