Incognito Press

truth. knowledge. freedom. passion. courage. Promoting free-thinking, activism & rogue writing.

Posts Tagged ‘olympics’

My love and hate affair with fencing

Posted by E on August 13, 2012

Fencing Olympics controversy

In light of the recent events involving South Korean fencer Lam Shin being robbed of the oportunity to fence the gold-silver medal match at the London 2012 Olympics, my thoughts once again return to fencing. How could I not think of it, seeing this 25-year old girl sobbing on the piste, reliving every moment of hard work and passion that led her to this moment of travesty?

Can the skills of sword-fighting survive as an art and a sport alone, without the bastardization of modern competitions? Can fencing move beyond a long history of dirty backroom deals and bought bouts?

I don’t know, and I’m not optimistic about it. But every time I realize how out of shape I am and how much I’d like to pick up a foil again, the traumas of my varsity years at the University of Ottawa come back to me. The unjust coaches who slept with athletes, the overt favouritism, the occasional fencing scandal that broke out (in magazines such as Sports Illustrated) involving money exchanging hands and bouts being sold off….and yet in my hearts of hearts, I must confess that I miss it – the sensation of that metal against my hand, the sound (the music) when blade meets blade, a cacophony of excitement, a dash of fear, and more than your fair share of exhuberance.

I have to thank fencing for letting me explore my demons. I first picked up a foil the year after I’d come out of hiding after providing information against a group of dangerous white supremacist extremists, information that was used to dismantle their organization. I lived in hiding for over a year all across Canada and by the time I managed to get myself into university as a mature student, I was full of anger and resentment at having discovered that our own government – through its intelligence body, CSIS – had co-founded and bankrolled the very group that had recruited me and other teenagers.

Fencing helped channel my anger into purpose. It drove me to pursue excellence. It empowered me to finally believe, for the first time, that I could be a normal human being. A normal nineteen-year old, whatever “normal” meant. Sure, I didn’t have parents cheering from the sidelines at competitions or coaches who rubbed my shoulders between bouts, but on that piste, across from average college girls, I felt like I was finally on par with the rest of the world – and consequently, that I could have a future once again.

And then I came crashing into the injustices of the sport, the daily murdering of the spirit that favoritism can deliver, and the overarching elitism that lays entrenched in the foundations of the sport.

With no money and no coaches willing to give me free lessons (all the while other girls were being invited to coaches’ houses for lunches, dinners and free training), my fencing days were numbered – sure I could have continued,but the track I was on involved a rapid trajectory to the top, and I refused to accept recreational goals.

And yet I miss it. With age comes perspective, and I realize that competitive fencing made me miserable and angry. Sure I won bouts, but at what cost? These days, with my goals changed and wisdom stemming out of experience, I long for that sensation of being in control of my body, of a blade that is an extention of both my arm and my will. And yet I am afraid that the sport has been utterly corrupted by the competitive slant that has overtaken it over the last hundred years. Whereas once upon a time fencing was practically a requirement, it slowly receded into the arms of the noble classes and the elites who have since turned it into an ugly and corrupt enterprise.

I don’t know what else to say, other than I miss it, I’m afraid of it, I long for it.

I long for the days when fencing will be less about the Olympics and more about the sheer love of bettering oneself. But in the end, unlike soccer or volleyball or swimming, which can be played simply for the fun of it, when it comes to fencing I don’t really think that it is possible.

But oh, how I’d like it to be.

If you enjoyed the read or found it useful, please consider dropping a dollar in my Patreon donation jar.

Advertisements

Posted in fencing, korea, longing, media, news, olympics, thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Beijing 2008: Top 10 Olympic scandals, hissy fits and tantrums

Posted by E on August 23, 2008

This has been one colourful Olympics. For every glorious moment of well-deserved glory for winning athletes, there was a hissy fit, temper tantrum and otherwise classy behaviour from others not quite caught in the Olympic spirit.

It took until the last day to get our gold-medal moment of shame, which I will arbitrarily award to Cuba’s Angel Matos, but there are many other honorable mentions. So here they are, our spectacular lineup of athletic sportsmanship: *drumroll*

GOLD MEDAL LOSER: taekwondo (curtesy of CBC)

Taekwondo athlete Angel Matos of Cuba faces a lifetime ban after kicking the referee in the face following his disqualification in a bronze-medal match Saturday at the Beijing Games. Matos’s coach Leudis Gonzalez also faces a lifetime ban in response to the incident that took place at the end of the men’s over-80 kg bout.
“We didn’t expect anything like what you have witnessed to occur,” said World Taekwondo Federation secretary general Yang Jin-suk. “I am at a loss for words.”

SILVER MEDAL LOSER: wrestling (Courtesy of the Telegraph.uk)

Abrahamian threw down his 84kg greco-roman bronze in disgust after his shot at gold was ended by a decision denounced by the Swedish coach as “politics”. Abrahamian took the medal from around his neck during the medal ceremony, stepped from the podium and dropped it in the middle of the mat before storming off. The Swedish wrestler had to be restrained by team-mates earlier as a row erupted with judges over the decision in a semi-final bout with Andrea Minguzzi of Italy, who went on to the take gold. Abrhamian, who won silver at the Athens 2004 Games, shouted at the referee, then went over to confront judges, angrily throwing off the restraining arm of a team official. Swedish fans booed loudly as the judges filed out of the arena. Abrahamian said nothing to waiting reporters but whacked an aluminium barricade with his fist as he left the hall.

Abrahamian was eventually stripped of his bronze medal by the IOC because of this tantrum.

BRONZE MEDAL LOSER: fencing

I have decided to remove this particular entry because it is time to put this incident to rest.

OTHER (DIS)HONORABLE MENTIONS:

These other guys didn’t throw hissy fits during their matches, but must be included nonetheless in order to have a complete account of Beijing 2008’s various petty dramas:

4. The lip-synching fiasco:

The golden Olympic opening ceremonies was somewhat tarnished by news accounts that some of the fireworks had been computer-added to the program we all saw, and that the pretty little girl in the red dress who sang so sweetly was actually lip-syncing, with the original pre-recorded child singer deemed “too ugly” by the Chinese program directors, because she had a missing tooth and buck teeth.

5. The underage gymnast scandal

Chinese gymnasts are very likely younger than the minimum allowed age of 16 – and certificates have been “doctored” by Chinese officials in order to allow them to participate, leading to a team gold medal and several other gold and silver medals that weren’t deserved. While this cheating allegation is currently being seriously investigated by the IOC, (one of the girls even admitted in a Chinese television interview last year that she was 14!) nobody is batting an eye at all the horrendous Chinese child labour practices that are going on in factories across China in order to feed the government coffers that wasted spent a disgusting 43 billion dollars in showing the world that “we do Olympics better than everybody else.”

Ok, I know a lot of people are saying in defense of the Chinese “Asian kids are much smaller than Western ones”, but let me tell you something. I taught kids in Korea for a whole year, and I did travel to China as well, and I’ve never taught a sixteen-year old who looked that young. From my guestimate as a teacher in Asia, three out of the six girls are 12 or 13 years old.

6. The Spanish slanty-eyes photos

This one speaks for itself. But apparently it wasn’t meant to be offensive, as hard as that may be to swallow. The Spanish basketball team (and their supporters – in the other photos) took out ads featuring this photo, saying “We are prepared for China!”; that is to say, being prepared for Chinese competition meant seeing things through their competitors’ eyes…

7. Accusations of bribery and manipulation in Boxing:


Bought boxing matches, what else is new? I only watched two matches before being too disgusted to continue. Read the account, courtesy of Yahoo News:

Boxing officials were battling to contain a major scandal on Saturday as serious claims of bribery and the manipulation of Olympic judging panels emerged after a series of disputed bouts.

The International Boxing Association (AIBA) suspended Romanian technical delegate Rudel Obreja after he held an impromptu and rowdy press conference and made lurid allegations against senior officials.

AIBA also revealed that it had been tracking “possible attempts of manipulation” for more than two months and had brought in an International Olympic Committee (IOC) observer “when the situation became more serious”.

8. The paralyzed dancer

Because of sloppy platforms and mishandling, a 26-year old woman who was supposed to perform a 2-minute solo dance at the Olympic opening ceremonies, a prize-winning and talented top Chinese dancer, fell and broke her back, resulting in complete paralysis from the waist down. Apparently she had laid in agony for 50 minutes while the emergency medical crew had to endure a lengthy security check. One wonders if more immediate attention and packing of her back in ice could have prevented to extent of the damage.

At first this story was given the usual sanitized Chinese cover-up. But as more stories emerged about the young Mongolian woman who came from nothing, and for whom dance was everything, the media picked up on it. The photo shows the brave face Liu Yan puts on as she wishes the best of luck to her country’s athletes. You have to hope that the Chinese government will be prepared to pay for her lifelong care, rehabilitation therapy and give her a generous pension. You just have to hope.

9. The Grannies sentenced to a year in a re-education labour camp

Two frail-looking Chinese women in their late 70s have caused a storm in China by applying to protest during the Olympics. They’ve embarrassed the Beijing authorities and so earnt themselves a one-year sentence to re-education through labour for disturbing the public order, and that’s even before they got a chance to actually protest. Their case has led to criticism that the so-called Olympic protest parks were never intended to allow people to demonstrate during the Games.

In an interview, neighbours Wu Dianyuan, 79, and Wang Xiuying, 77, said they had not received compensation after their homes were demolished by the city government seven years ago and were simply fighting for their rights.

In an interview, Wang (who is blind in one eye) and Wu were seated together in a ramshackle one-room apartment without electricity in which Wu now lives after her home in central Beijing was demolished to make way for a development.

“We have done nothing wrong,” said Wang.
“They won’t let me protest, then they sentence me to a year labour camp. […] It’s not fair.”

Thankfully, after all the media attention, their sentences have now been suspended, on the condition that they “behave well”. Read: no more protests for grandma.

10. The constant police presence. Read an excerpt from Globe&Mail’s article by G York:

Many of China’s security measures at the Olympics seemed to be symbolic threats, aimed at sending a strong warning message, rather than having any practical purpose. Why did China park an armoured vehicle outside the main Olympic Press Centre? Why did police walk through the crowd at Ditan Park last Sunday, taking photos of every citizen who was watching the closing ceremony on giant outdoor screens? Ditan Park is an ordinary park, not an Olympic venue, and nothing except the large television screens had any connection to the Olympics. Why did the police need to photograph everyone at the park?

I am leaving any other Olympic scandals that come to mind to the readers’ vote – what other dark moment sticks in your mind as an embarrassment to the Beijing 2008 Olympics? Please feel free to contribute your suggestions.

Posted in canada, cuba, culture, fencing, humor, humour, media, news, olympics, politics, press, wtf | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Another reason why fencing sucks big time in Canada

Posted by E on August 22, 2008

 

One of the comments left on CBC following the expletitive outburst of  Sherraine Schalm led me to thinking, and sure enough another reason came to me as to why fencing sucks in this country. (By the way, read the original why fencing sucks-big-time article here). And below is the original comment, from someone named Elberich:

I have fenced for over ten years. Unfortunately competition is about winning and losing, it is not about fencing. This has degraded the culture of fencing. You can see this clearly when each few seconds of fencing (notably in foil and saber) is followed by ten seconds of posing and gesticulating directed at the judges to convince them that you did initiate the attack, have right of way, etc…

It has become more important to convince the judge and score the point than engage in the sport. Fencing is a wonderful sport and when it is practiced with good conduct and within the spirit of fencing it is a thing of beauty. Unfortunately competition has destroyed this.

I hear you. Competition, and the histrionic tantrums and theatrics that accompany it, have destroyed the soul of fencing. Then again, did it ever have a soul, or was it always dominated by a few, “high-bred” snooty white guys? Things haven’t changed much, have they? hmm….

Fencing is one of those unique sports where screaming and “being nasty is what is required” (to quote my former schoolmate Sherraine, who I agree with on this one). I remember being in competition years ago at some Ontario university or another (they all blend it after a while), and there was this one big, tall, ugly girl who kept screaming bloody murder after every touch. Actually, she didn’t just scream. She went: “OOPAH!” like a drunken greek tavern-keeper. Of course, she did well. Everybody thought she was out of her mind. I thought – here’s a psycho who’s obviously found a place to fit in and actually thrive.
And the higher you go through the fencing ranks, the more screaming and nastiness goes on.

There is no such thing in this country as “recreational” fencing. Everyone is pushed to attend competitions – hell, you can’t even fence without being forced to buy a “CFF” licence. What the f*ck is that??

“As of July 2006 the CFF is requiring all participants in fencing in Canada to hold a license.
$10 Register on line from CFF website http://www.fencing.ca
All OFA members are responsible to register for this license independently of the OFA.”

SO here’s another reason why Sports Canada should cut funding for this tightly-controlled “sport”.
You don’t see people shooting hoops or playing soccer in the park being forced to buy licenses, do you? I think the true measure of a sport is whether an average kid can play it in the park. Instead, it is an inbred little fraternity where everyone knows everyone by the first name.
(*waving hand* Oh, hi, Don – thanks for forcing me to buy a CFF licence this year – as if!)

Even if you don’t want to compete, there is no choice. This is how fencing is forced to remain in the hands of an archaic, elitist little bunch of snooty, inbred morons. Who force you to cough up some dough just for the privilege of participating in the sport.

Otherwise, why do they force fencers to register? Are we in a communist country where a head-count is necessary to prevent insurrections? What other sport mandates such exclusion? What other sport demands a fee to a hierarchical institution in order to be played?

This is a case of not being able to see the forest through the trees. If they really want this sport to last, they need to make it accesible to everyone. Why do you think so many people quit fencing after a couple of years? You cannot do this recreationally, and anyone who says so is lying or hasn’t been in the sport long enough to observe that competition is its only embodiment.

This is why fencing is going extinct. Not because we don’t have the need to defend ourselves through swords anymore, but because overseeing bodies like the CFF (Can Fencing Federation) have such tight controls, and nobody is playing it in the schoolyards, on the playgrounds, in the outside world.

And lastly, THIS is the reason why martial arts are so much more popular – because they can be done recreationally, for fun and relaxation, and they encourage a holistic, spiritual merging of body, mind, and soul.

Unfortunately, fencing lacks sorely in the latter.

Posted in canada, fencing, rant, wtf | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Berlin, Beijing – behind the smoke and mirrors, a monster rears its ugly head

Posted by E on August 22, 2008

Berlin 1936 = Beijing 2008. I bet Leni Riefenstahl is rolling in her grave wishing she could’ve gotten a crack at filming this one.

How are they similar? In both cases, a hopelessly corrupt IOC awards the Olympic games to a savage totalitarian state, while the world turns a blind eye to the atrocities committed by that state.

Violations against open discourse started early: as foreign journalists began converging on Beijing to cover the Summer Olympics, restrictions began to be placed on journalistic freedoms.

Since China was awarded the Games, China’s Communist Government and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have continually given guarantees to the world’s media that journalists would have unrestricted access to the Internet.
Then, the Chinese Government blew that commitment into disarray when 20,000 journalists covering the August 8 – 24 Games in Beijing were told they would be blocked from accessing some Internet sites.

China has also designated 3 parks in Beijing for “sanctioned demonstrations”, promising that there would be room for protests, provided that those planning to organize a peaceful protest would submit a petition in advance. The result: people were rounded up and arrested instead. No protest ever took place.

Australia’s Media Alliance spokesman Christopher Warren was quoted as comparing the upcoming Games to those hosted by Nazi Germany in 1936. “This promises to be the most restricted Olympics, in terms of reporting the Games and its social and political context, since Berlin in 1936”.

Everyone who has watched the Olympics has witnessed pro-Chinese cheating, none more evident than in the gymnastics fiasco. Not only are at least two of the girls underage, but in my opinion it’s pretty clear the judges have been bought. Not surprising, though, since the field of gymnastics, like figure skating, is notorious for bribing and buying of judges.

China has spent in excess of 43 billion dollars (yes, you read that right) to showcase their superiority over (and shame) all other nations who have ever hosted an Olympics. You can rest assured that the message “We’re Bigger, We’re Better” does not stop with the theatrics of the opening ceremonies, to dubbed musical productions or with little girls who are considered too ugly to represent China and must sing below a stage.

The smoke and mirrors that cover an insatiable urge to beat all others will not put all its hopes on the shoulders of mere human beings. Just think about it – if you’ve gone all the way and spent 43 billion dollars on a show, what’s a few more paltry million to buy off some judges?

This is a country where you go to jail if you speak out against the regime. Where ethnic and religious minorities are persecuted and murdered in the open. Where you must fit in, must not think for yourself, must become a robot for the State.

Communism and fascism are similar in that way: they curtail the freedom to be an intellectual, to have free thought, to breathe without looking over your shoulder. They curtail the kind of music you can listen to, the kinds of magazines you read, the choice of vocation, job, and career you may ever have dreamed to have.

These are nations where children with aptitude are kidnapped from their parents and thrown into provincial facilities where they are forced to train for 16 hours a day, just to show the State as powerful and full of glory. Gold medals are stacked upon the broken bones, wilted minds and ruined bodies of young people.

You can also count on the fact that pre-Olympic discussions took place, where Chinese judging officials have been not only bribed with better apartments and salaries, but also warned that if they brought shame upon China (by marking them less than anyone else), they would be deported to some gulag somewhere and would wish for an early death.

You think it can’t happen again? Guess what? It’s happening already.

Posted in censorship, china, commentary, communism, culture, freedom, germany, news, olympics, politics, tibet, war | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

2012 Olympics: Sherraine vs. Hungary?

Posted by E on August 14, 2008

In the furious media blitz that followed Sherraine Schalm’s defeat at the hand of Hungarian epeeist (and former teammate) Ildiko Mincza-Nebald, two battle-camps quickly formed: those eager to defend her heated outburst at the end of a rough match, and those who called her conduct unsportsmanlike and shameful to Canada. So which is it? What really happened?

Thanks to CBC’s sanitization of the tape, Canadians won’t really know, unless they were up at 4 or 6 am and happened to catch a glimpse of the scandal that was to come. I use the word “scandal” loosely, since to a certain degree this is a lot of hoopla over essentially a bag of beans. But it got sensationalized because Canadians just don’t do these things, especially pretty blonde girls from Alberta who are regular guests on CBC radio.

So what is this big thing that Sherraine did? Apparently, the match itself wasn’t pretty. A lot of uncontrollable screaming went on, both herself and Ildiko trying to one-up each other, getting overly aggressive, etc. I’ve seen that a lot more in men’s fencing, but that’s not to say it isn’t common in women’s events. There’s a lot of theatrics, temper tantrums and bullying that go into screwing with your opponent’s head – I’ve been guilty of it on rare occasions, and I challenge any fencer who’s been around the block once or twice to tell me this isn’t so.

So after Sherraine’s match ended, she refused to shake Ildiko’s hand – which I’ve also done once after a particularly emotional bout a long time ago (and I got yellow card-ed for it). I don’t think that’s a terribly huge deal, considering the frenzied battle-cry that came out of Ildiko when she won and the way her eyes rolled back in her head – let’s just say she didn’t come across as a likeable person or one you’d run into in a dark alley at night.

But then the moment came that everyone’s been talking about: after refusing to shake Ildiko’s hand, Sherraine turned to the Hungarian team in seething anger and pointed her epee at them, then shouted “Fuck you all!”

Later she apologized, the kind of apology you make when you’ve been caught with your pants down in front of the camera and you have no choice but to say something to make it all go away. Did she mean it? Hell, no. She was sorry that it was caught on camera, that people were offended and that she came across as unprofessional because of that – I’m sure she feels sorry for the way things unfolded. But does she still carry that anger in her which spilled out on the piste yesterday? Yes, of course she still does. It came across scathingly clear in the interview with CBC the following morning.

There are certain things Sherraine talked about in that interview that no one in their right mind would question – the lack of funding, for both training and hiring coaches, and the resulting scarcity of quality training in Canadian fencing programs. It’s the same thing I blogged about yesterday, the day before her last Olympic bout. The problem is, there is a lot of emotion, passion and anger interwoven in her words, and those which made me bristle, like so many others, were the blanket statements regarding how Hungarians hate Canadians simply because they are strangers on their turn.

First of all, in order to believe this we are to assume there are no personality clashes between fencers, which let me tell you, is a pipe dream. I’d wager anything that hostility was there before this bout – those two women I saw in that Olympic bout hated each others’ guts. When you add the fact that Ildiko and others on her team obviously felt threatened by a foreign fencer coming into their country, into their gym, training and yes, bettering herself, they wanted to get rid of her. As much as I actually do sympathise with Sherraine, when it comes to the Olympics, it’s every woman for herself.

From what I gather, Ildiko was ranked slightly below Sherraine on the world ranking list (Sherraine in 5th place, Ildiko in 12th) and possibly felt that she was giving Sherraine the advantage of using a Hungarian coach, a Hungarian gym, and practice with fencers who she would have to defeat – in the process “stealing” ideas, learning of other girls’ secret fencing habits and shortcomings, etc. So Ildiko went to the coach and complained, and probably other Hungarian fencers did as well, as Sherraine was shut out of the 2-week training camp just before the Olympics.

It’s really too bad that happened, although the coach did do his best by apparently hooking her up with another athletes’ training regimen. But imagine what would’ve happened if Sherraine DID beat Ildiko in Beijing – and the scandal that would ensue in the Budapest papers – we allowed a Canadian to train with us, learn all our habits, steal our tricks, and now she beat us out of the Olympics. What I am trying to say is – the coach had no choice but to listen to the complaints of his Hungarian athletes. His job and reputation were at stake.

Sherraine, if you are reading this, it’s not because I disagree with your opinion, because if I were in your position I’d be mad as hell, and I’d need more than “a couple of brandies” as you put it, to hold me back from trying to wring Ildiko’s neck. But you need to tell yourself that your Hungarian coach didn’t really have a choice in doing what he did. And in the end, your opponents and you ARE on different teams. But that doesn’t mean that Hungarians in general hate Canadians – although many of them may tend to be more than a tad bit xenophobic and abrasive. This wasn’t personal. Perhaps winning gold isn’t all that you are meant for. Maybe this event is meant to inspire you, down the line, to become an advocate for increased athletic funding, or recognition of fencing as a sport in Canada.

No matter what happens, I wish Sherraine will take the time she so desperately needs to regroup – and actually think not only about “showing them” or “beating them” in 2012, but whether she really needs this in her life right now. I know from the media coverage and her own blog that things have been difficult in her personal life, and I assume that now she will have to leave Hungary and find a place for herself again. For someone of her age, a cross-roads lays ahead – there are questions of life and priority, biological clocks and decisions to be made. Another 4 years of training, for a few minutes on the piste might be a glorious thing when you have a medal around your neck, but honestly, what does it all mean?

There has to be more than this. There is more to the universe than winning and losing a bloody match in an obscure sport that most people ridicule as elitist and biased, both observations not entirely untrue.

I remember the moment when I chose to walk away from fencing. It wasn’t simply a decision to either quit and be a loser, or be an athlete in a Nike ad and “Just do it” – give my life to fencing and never ever question that decision; to forsake travel and studying and writing books, to give up meeting someone who appreciated my mind rather than my exotic ability to fight with swords. No, when I walked away from fencing, when I divorced fencing, I didn’t quit – I saved myself. My pride, my sanity, the very meaning of my existence as a human being.

My worth didn’t reside in that metal stick in my hand. In that moment, I became a multi-faceted person, a human being once again instead of just a fencer. I became the writer I was always meant to be. It was the best decision I could have made for myself.

The sad thing is, when people leave their sports, when they get older – professional ballet dancers, gymnasts, and yes, fencers – they look back at their life (if lucky, a life filled with accolades and medals) and live on that for sustenance. They live in poverty, like so many artists and writers do, surrounded by masses of other people who simply don’t understand the kind of dedication that had compelled them to forego financial decisions that would prevent them from ending up on social assistance.

The answer to the question “Was it all worth it?” can only be answered by the same individual who is asking it. But if you’re not certain of the answer, if you judge your personal worth as that stick in your hand, that four-minute bout overseen by a biased referee, then you need to reinvent yourself. To drop the excuses, as valid as they may be, and realize this isn’t about the sport, or the sword, or the Hungarians – but about you. And what you are supposed to do with the rest of your life.

Posted in canada, fencing, hungary, life, olympics, press, thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , | 37 Comments »

Why Canadian fencing sucks big time

Posted by E on August 12, 2008

 

While keeping score with the Olympic games in Beijing, I hardly batted an eye as the news flashed on the official Beijing scores site: one by one, each Canadian fencer fell, pretty much after their first or second bouts. It’s a bit of a deja vu, actually, a flashback to the last Olympics – in Atlanta and Athens – when Canada managed to actually qualify more fencers to go than even this year.

And then what happened? Well, you know. What always happens.
They go home after 1 or 2 bouts.

Sorry to break it to you folks, but the sad and unfortunate reality is that Canada isn’t known for producing quality fencers, which is why the best Canadian fencers go abroad to train (look at Sherraine Schalm), and why someone like Jujie Luan, even at 50 yrs of age (an old lady to some), can qualify for a spot so easily, within 15 months. Coaching is rife with favoritism, bribes used to be common (and not just here – look at the Sports Illustrated’s infamous expose of bribery and corruption in fencing – read it here) & Canadian fencing programs here need to come a LONG way before they can be on par with the Romanians, French, Italians and Hungarians.

Even the biggest recent name in Canadian fencing, Sherraine the epeeist, who was profiled on everything from Macleans to CBC to everything else, who got a sweet book deal and on occasion has been somewhat of a media darling around here, lost in her first bout during the 2004 Athens event. She’s up tomorrow in Beijing, and as much as I’d like to see her succeed, there are no others who have tread before her. No Canadians have ever won a fencing medal. Ever.

So, Elisa, tell us, why does Canadian fencing suck?

Well, first of all, we have to put aside the popular fantasy that fencing is a sport which can be played recreationally, like volleyball or ping-pong or shooting hoops. EVERY STEP of fencing is geared toward competitions. There is no such thing, honestly, as fencing for fun; from day one, enthusiastic, wide-eyed wanna-be fencers are shoved forward onto a slaughterhouse ramp of competitive bouting. You go to amateur bouts, then to “Open” national circuits, then to international competitions. It’s what it is. Even if you want to wage your own protest and say “Hell, I’m gonna fence for fun”, your opponents will be prepping for their competitions, so it is impossible to avoid the intrinsic cut-throat nature of this sport.

But back to why it sucks big-time in this country.

The hot story this Olympics was about Jujie Luan, a former medal-winner for the Chinese waaaay back when she was still a Chinese national, having been churned out by those infamous Chinese athlete factories – you know, where they pick kids from kindergarten, assign them a sport and ship them off to athletic facilities on the other side of the country, whether the parents consent or not. Well, Jujie has been in Canada for many years now – I even got to see her some years back, fencing at the Nationals – and because of the Olympics being set in China, her homeland, she came out of self-imposed retirement. Jujie is 50 years of age, but nevertheless, within 15 months she managed to qualify for Beijing. (She was defeated in her second bout, but that’s not the point). Not to take away from Luan’s story, since training for this caliber of event is remarkable for someone her age. But fencing is NOT as physically demanding as most other Olympic sports. This is why routinely fencers up to their late 30s still qualify for Olympics. In fencing you “peak” in your mid-30s.

I think what’s more interesting is that Luan managed to qualify for a spot on the Olympic team within 15 mths. Frankly, this doesn’t say much for Canadian fencing as a whole.

When you go back to look at my former schoolmate, Sherraine Schalm, you get to see that she has actually been training in Europe for the last decade; a few years in Paris, and more recently, the last four in Hungary. Why? How could such a well-publicized Canadian athlete not actually LIVE here?

Well, other than mediocre coaches, favouritism that is so rampant – where good fencers get pushed aside by coaches who would rather sleep with their students – as it happened at my alma mater, supposedly the best varsity program for fencing in this country (where Sherraine also first came to train), where we won first place after first place in the university games for nearly a decade. The truth is, Canadian Coaches tend to play favourites, which is what the Romanians and the Chinese don’t do – for them, fencing is a business, without emotions and without bi-partisanship. If you have the spark in you, they will work it out of you. That’s their job.

Secondly, and just as importantly, government funding for “lesser-popular” sports like fencing (read: not football, soccer or hockey) is simply non-existent. Athletes are somehow expected to fund themselves, their lessons, their living expenses. Grants are few and far between, and cannot be said to even remotely cover the travel expenses of attending world championships every year.

Therefore, the pool of potential gold-medal-winning fencers has been reduced to the coach-favoured and wealthy – those whose parents and family can raise or at least scrimp together the necessary funds for them to survive as they train. You must be both to last as a competitive fencer. And if a coach doesn’t favour you, and won’t train you for free (how many do it anyway? How many retired fencer-come-coaches can afford to?) and you have to keep paying 20 bucks per lesson, how many lessons do you think you can afford? It all adds up.

Of course, to be a GOOD fencer you have to live abroad, and by the time you factor in the cost of renting a shitty apartment in a double-digit arrondissement on the outskirts of Paris, (as several people I know have done) and commuting to a gym where your teammates, via the grace of the French government, have their own personal trainers and psychologists and adorn the posters on bus shelters, you realize you’ve been pretty screwed by the country you are supposed to represent.

Now how’s that for motivation? No wonder the sport is so pathetic in this country.

If you enjoyed the read or found it useful, please consider dropping a dollar in my Patreon donation jar 🙂

Posted in canada, china, commentary, culture, fencing, olympics, thoughts | Tagged: , , , , | 12 Comments »