Saturday, November 11, 2006

My fencing secret: just add terror and blackmail

I’ve been quiet lately, partially because I have the winter blues and partially because I am busy with my new secret (or busy trying to make money for my new secret). And that secret is...I’m going to the nationals! Yes’siree, that’s the fencing nationals, which starts with F and rhymes with S and stands for suicidal!

‘But Beth’ you say, ‘how hard could this exciting challenge be?’

Well, the 2005-2006 Canadian nationals had 37 women in senior epee. The US nationals had three divisions with around 400 competitors who had qualified in tournaments. Then there is another 90 or so in the Veteran’s Division. In Canada there is no Veterans, or separation of divisions. There‘s just Seniors which covers 20-80 years of age (you can fence after 80 but the lunging gets far more dangerous). That means that the Canadian nationals had only 14 more women than the Seattle open.

Still, how hard can that be? Well, one of the women will be Sherriane Schalm-Mackay. You may have heard of her, since she just won the 2006 overall world cup circuit (first North American to do so) and is ranked the number one in the world. Then there is Julie Lephron (32nd in the world – the first American is at 48), then Ainsley Switzer (64th in the world), and Catherine Dunnette (72nd in the world). In the Vancouver World Cup, the last World Cup of the 2005-2006 season, there were four Canadians in the top 12, no Americans. The Canadian women's epee team in the last two months got individual and team gold at both the Pan-Am Games and the Commonwealth Games. Then there’s the next generation of 3 athletes already working their way up to the top 100 in world cup circuit and the 6 behind them, preparing to enter the world of international fencing. They are all coming to the Canadian Nationals.

And the reason that matters? Well the Canadian Fencing Federation, deciding that “too many” people were coming to the nationals decided to change the rules in order to emphasis “quality over quantity.” That means that 20-30% of all fencers will be eliminated directly out of the pools. And (because the number 2 seed last year was knocked out in Direct Elimination by the number 36 seed) the top 4 finishers in the pools will go directly to super pools. Now while that might make sense if there were more than 50 epeeists, knocking out up to 30% of 35 epeeists before they can even have a full length bout seems vicious.

The Nationals are in three weeks, December 3rd and I have been training as hard as possible. Indeed, most mornings I do not wake up but am awoken by the complaints of one or more parts of my body. And working lots to get the money to go, about $850 in expenses so far. In my life right now, that’s a lot of money. And I worry that I will be eliminated right off the start.

This is what will happen. There are 47 women registered right now, so probably 40-42 will be at the event (since the late registration is $300, I'm not expecting any more to sign up). We will be put in pools of six people each. In pools, each person fences everyone else in the pool in five point bouts and everyone are ranked according to how many points and victories they score. Then the bottom 20-30% are eliminated. This means that to MAKE SURE I don’t get eliminated I will need to be 4th or above in my pool. Except that there will be at least 1 world class international athlete in my pool, and 1 budding international athlete in my pool and 1 person trained as “high performance” in special training camps in MontrĂ©al. Which means I have to beat the two people who paid hundreds of dollars in airfare to come if I have a chance to go into the Direct Eliminations because the CFF is standing there with a gun at our heads saying “Fence, damn you, fence...harder!”). I just think it is really weird in a fencing competition to have 10% of the fencers be the best of the best in the world (including the number 1 in the world) and another 10% to be international athletes working to be the best. It feels like winning your high school basketball team championship and then having to face off against the US Olympic “dream team”. You want a national medal? Then you have to beat the best in the WORLD.

On the bright side, if I make it out of pools, I WILL be fencing at least two of the top epeeists in the world in one competition. That’s cool. I try not to think about how MacKay has been fencing for 20 years and has a personal Hungarian coach and I have been fencing epee for 9 month (by the tournament) and have Mr. Ho whose advice before competition is, “Close eyes and stick out arm.”

I’m excited about it, really, actually, I’ll go with excited. I’m not adding any extra days of training because I can’t afford to get sick or injured. I’m just brushing up on what I know, and doing some drills, and a little endurance work. Beyond that, I’m depending on that fencing saying, “Anyone can beat anyone…for that day.” Oh yeah, and Mr. Ho doesn’t know...yet. Last time I tried to enter a competition Amanda was in he told me if I went I couldn’t use any club equipment ever again – so I didn’t go. Since then, I’ve been buying all my own gear. You know I never liked being blackmailed (by the way, anyone know where I can get a severed horses head?).


Daniel, the Guy in the Desert said...

"anyone know where I can get a severed horses head?"
Ask a horse that's not using theirs anymore.
Good luck with the competition. Keep us updated. This sounds exciting.
My favorite Oriental teachers line comes from The Karate Kid.
"When done correcry, no can defense."

kathz said...

Wow! whatever happens it will be exciting - and I hope you get some great bouts and surprise victories. I'll be thinking of you and wishing you well.

3rd December is my big fencing day too - the club championship. On current form, I'll come last and score even fewer hits than last year (especially in foil) but the practice against the best fencers in the club is probably what I need to help me improve a little. Oh, and it's a lot cheaper - competing in foil and epee costs £9, I can walk or cycle there, and borrow equipment if necessary.

Sober @ Sundown said...

Wow, what a secret! Good luck, I will be thinking of you, and don't train too hard before getting there.

BrianH said...


Since you're going anyway, you might as well plan to win.

Change tempo in your footwork, accelerate with your attack, remise, defend yourself with the point, observe your opponents carefully, and above all, have a super time!

You'll find it inspirational and nerve-wracking and a source of friendships and great memories. Are you taking a camera to share the experience with us?

Best of luck to you,

Elizabeth McClung said...

It's kinda scary and exciting, thanks for the encouragement.

I am not going to win, but I am going to compete - I think coming second to Mackay is the most I can fantasize. I will have to say that EVERY victory will be a surprise victory.

Jim said...

You will be the one we pull for in North Carolian Tiger!


i'm so excited and impressed. i lurve it when people follow their passions no matter how crazy they seem. sending good vibes your way ladybug!