Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I'm Not a Swimmer...

Today I managed 50 lengths, no problem. Unfortunately that was Breast-stroke and I'm still struggling with front-crawl although I can feel myself slowly improve.

I'm going to head out to the gym shortly and do some power-work on my legs and then maybe head for a bit of jog around one of the lakes at Bois de Vincennes this evening.

I've been trying to contact the French National team coach this week as well. The French team are having a stage (training camp) next week in the South of France and it would be fantastic for me to get in on that. The French are a notoriously closed camp though and I don't really hold out that much hope of being allowed in.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Major update on its way... I promise!

I'm going to go to the gym and when I come back spend the afternoon finishing all the drafts I've made over the last couple of months but not finished. Well not all of them but most of them. Starting with the Euro-Champs, then the fencing season before that and then Cuba.

It will be done!


Updated the Europeans

Next-up - the rest of the season

Owen the Modern Pentathlete: Week X

My struggles to achieve 200m freestyle in or around olympic record of 2:14ish has hit a series of walls and as such so has my modern pentathlete ambitions. I'll work through this section by section...

Pistol Shooting

I still have never shot a pistol. The closest I've come is half an hour of air rifle shooting easily ten years or more ago.

Show Jumping

While my experience of horse riding has increased exponentially over the last few weeks - we went on a horse treck while in Cuba. The closest I've come to actually show-jumping is asking a few people who've previously done it to explain it to me verbally in under 10 minutes... and for them to burst out into laughter. When they eventually calmed down they explained I would likely kill myself...


Haven't fenced any Epee since about 30 minutes in February.


I'm no middle distance runner. Built for short burst of energy and then long-bouts of sleeping, my 3000m times aren't really times as in something worth recording.


The 200m freestyle probably has been the most frustrating element not only because of own shoddy freestyle abilities but because of my local pool.

Yesterday, for instance the fast lane contained 4 or 5 fat old women. One would alternately lie on her front or back clutching several floats while instead of doing a proper swimming kick she seemed to be cycling underwater. Needless to say she wasn't moving and several other women clutching boards would slowly queue up behind her. Another woman was doing back-crawl without using her legs and was dragging along in the water at a 45o angle. Yet another, was clutching several boards and doing breast stroke while completely vertical in the water - any forward motion she was getting was purely coincidental and may well have been the air-conditioning blowing her along.


All this is firstly caused by the constant and ridiculous layout of the pool. A third of it is un-laned and a leisure area. The rest is divided into three lanes - Breast-Stroke, Front-Crawl and Back-Crawl and yet another Front-Crawl and Back-Crawl lane. What sense does it make to have two lanes which combine two strokes with possibly the biggest difference in speed? There is no indication of which is supposed to be the faster of the two and normally this seems to be decided just by how many terrible swimmers are in one over the other. The Lifeguards, who are numerous, since this is France and the state bears the responsibility of providing as many wasters as possible with pointless jobs, do nothing!

To top all this my own swimming is possibly the biggest source of frustration. Breast-stroke was always my preferred stroke. I can swim a large number of lengths no problem with breast-stroke but the technique of my front-crawl is terrible. Each time I swim a length or two I think of something else I should be focusing on. Of course the minute I do that I forget to do something else. I did enough breast-stroke when I was younger that it is automatic now and I can force myself into good technique when I get tired. On the other hand, front-crawl is still just a huge number of variables which I must try to focus on at once.

Anyway, I shall persist and push on through to the other side...


The final nail in the coffin for my local pool came today. I returned to a cubicle to dry-off from the shower. As I was drying myself, I felt an eerie feeling creep over me. Then I realised what was wrong... Michael Jackson was playing over the intercom. I shuddered, packed up my stuff and left as soon as I could.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Euro Champs, Day Three: Men's Epee and Women's Sabre

My guilt at not getting up at 7am to go watch Benedict will stay with me for the rest of my life. I had intended to get up and run out quick at around 7.45am and head down to catch most of it. I half woke up. Thought I needed an extra 20 minutes sleep, reset my alarm and the next time my eyes were open it was closer to 10.

I'd missed the men's Epee poules when I arrived and Benedict explained how the whole championships had been cruelly torn from his hands by the luck of the gods. In all seriousness though he was unlucky that a beatable Latvian scratched from his poule at the start. He won another match and was agonisingly close to taking another but lost 5-4 and became the third of the Irish team to depart the competition at the poule stage (the entire male contingent).


The afternoon it was Siobhán's turn.

In a poule with a Romanian, Hungarian, Polish and Russian fencers and a Belarussian president, one might have seen the writing on the wall. Particularly as the president laughed with his former soviet comrades on the sidelines. The dagger was truly twisted when after fenceing excellently against the powerful Russian fencer Velekya Siobhán was up 4-3 and with the momentum firmly in her favour she seemed set to take the match and guarantee her place in the next round (having already beaten the Hungarian - Peto). Siobhán went for the attack... Velekya went for a parry Quinte... which had barely cleared her navel when Siobhán's attack landed square in her chest. The most blatant mal-parry I have ever seen but the point went to Velekya. In the lottery of a 4-4 match and with momentum suddenly shifted given this heinous error the match went to the Russian.

There was only one match left after that, against her club-mate Louise Bond-Williams, who she had drawn in international competition for something like the 9th time. Matches against an opponent you know so well and who knows you so well are never easily and in a short poule match anyting could have happened. Siobhán has an excellent record over Louise in their last few meetings but it was to be the Brit who came out on top in a very tense match this time. Bond-Williams took the last qualify place in the rankings and Siobhán was left wondering what could have been... sadly.

She fenced well in a very tough poule and as she said herself, that made it so much harder to take the bitter disappointment of going out so soon.


At three o'clock I had to make my exit from the tournament. I had a flight to catch back to Dublin that evening from Charles De Gaulle, as I was going to be going to Rachel's graduation the following morning.

For the first time in the week the transport desk proved useful and they organised an entire minibus to take me alone, to the train station. I got a train back to Brussels nearly immediately but I was unable to change my ticket to an earlier TGV because of some pricing condition. After an hours wait on the platform I was shuttled quickly and quietly back to Paris.

I dumped my stuff in the apartment, packed my hand-luggae, changed into my suit, as it was the easiest way to the carry it and headed back to the train out to CDG.

A couple of uneventful hours later I was back in Dublin

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Euro Champs, Day Two - Women's Epee and Men's Foil

Benedict was dropping his weapons in to weapons control on the Tuesday morning, as was Siobhán, so I went with them to the hall.

A tremendous amount of hanging around then followed as the weapons were waited on and we waited to support Philip in the afternoon. I filled in the time inspecting the women's epee, in which the Swedish team were surely the highlight.

Although I was not familiar with his opposition, the general vibe I got was that the men's foil was not an easy competition either - shocking.

A week before his 50th birthday philip was really putting it up himself fight with fencers the majority of whom must have been half his age. I don't know how he felt about his performance but he did seem to be quite tense on the piste. In the end the speed of the other fencers was to be his undoing and he failed to register a victory.


Tired from a relatively early start on the day and the ridiculously early start the day before I decided to skip the finals and take a nap in my room. As it turns out I missed probably the most eventful finals but for reasons other than fencing. The weather had been terrible all week and the roof chose to spring a leek just as the finals were being shown on Eurosport delaying the whole thing by about 3/4 of an hour.

Somewhat relieved to have missed a long wait before some finals that I had little interest in, I felt vindicated in my choice of a nap.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Euro Champs, Day One - Men's Sabre

I had my alarm set for 5.15am the next morning, so as to make sure to be up and awake several hours before the tournament. I showered and changed into my tracksuit. I had my equipment packed in my bag from the night before and did one final check I had everything before taking the bag down for breakfast.

I poured myself a bowl of muesli and some fruit for breakfast. the bus was scheduled to leave from the Sofitel for 6.15am for the bus to the venue (the bus schedule had to be re-arranged for this as originally the first bus was leaving at 7am, which would have left little or no time for warming-up). It began to rain as the bus made it's way through the empty streets of the town. In yet another, organisational master-stroke when we reached the venue at around 6.30am the doors weren't even opened yet.

I began my warm-up at around 7am. Unfortunately, I was left with no one to warm up with in advance of my poule. With small complete teams of four from most countries there was no need or will to have me warm-up with them. One of the few other single member teams, an Israeli, ws in my poule so that limited my options even further. I did my best to be fully warmed up before my poule and felt quite comfortable and confident nonetheless going into my poule.

As is the normal for the European Championships a very tough poule lay ahead of me. PRYIEMKA Valery (BLR) #51, SHTURBABIN Oleg (UKR) #62, BAUER Dennis (GER) #22, PODZNYAKOV Stanislav (RUS) #2, MAIMON Yaniv (ISR) #999, MARTI Jaime (ESP) #18. Full results from the poule are available here.

Pryiemka was my first match. I was unfamiliar him going into the match but expected a high tempo. His attacks repeated went into my guard, much to his consternation. Unexpectedly enough my attacks were working in the centre so I pressed my attack at 4-4. He managed to parry about parry my attack and get the reposte.

Shturbabin is a particularly fast Ukranian. My parries were just milliseconds to slow.

I knew what to expect from Bauer - giant attacks finished with epic lunges. That is all well and good in theory but you only really appreciate the speed until you're facing it on the piste. My distance just wasn't quite there for this match, needing to retreat an extra six foot and I was somewhat dissapointed at the fight I put up in this match.

Podz was never going to be an easy prospect, being the greatest living sabreur and current world champion. I'd fenced him last year at the Europeans and I was infinitely more satisfied with my performance this year. I fenced at my best, not at all in awe of the man. I got one great point where he fell short and then flunged at him with a feint head and then wrist. There was a brief look of disbelief through his visor mask - that was enough for me for the mean time. It's unfortunate that my best isn't the best in the world then and his is.

The match against the unseeded Israeli was undoubtedly my worst match. A match I knew I could have and indeed should have won. Nerves prevailed in the end and really I should have done better to close out the match against an inferior opponent.

With absolutely no hope of qualification I was determined still to give Jaime a good match. He's a really nice guy and always has time to say hello at any opportunity. I tried my hardest and certainly worked him up and down the piste but in the end he truly is world-class and that turned out to be a vital difference on the day.


On paper than it was a dissapointing result but throughout I was happy with how I fenced. The important thing for me was the difference in my performance from last year and I was satisfied that throughout it was much better. The only downside was not beating the fencer that I should have and that is something I'm actively working on sorting out mentally myself. All round though I felt a lot more confident and that truly being competitive and beating these fencers is a lot closer a goal than when I set off for Paris in November.

To put the result in context, only one of the British Sabreurs managed to get through to a direct elimination match and the three others were eliminated along with myself. It was not a result that would ever set the world on fire but I felt good about my fencing and how I had performed


The most annoying thing about the whole thing was how early it had been and now just over an hour later on the very first day of the championships I was finished by about 9am. Philip Lee, our foilist competitor, had arrived with his daughter in the mean time and enquired how I got on.

I spent the rest of the day watching matches in the Men's Sabre. It was a very exciting tournament as it happened. The standard was ridiculous and the big names were dropping from the very first DE. Pillet had to fence Tretiyak in the incomplete 64.

In the end Jorgé Pina took gold, beating Yakimenko in the final. Jorgé is a real nice guy, who Marcos knew from his time fencing in Madrid, and who has always been friendly since we were introduced in Istanbul last year. He ended up winning the tournament in Istanbul that weekend being in incredible form and once more at this championships, as he put it himself "I just had a good day, that's all".


I watched the finals with Nuala and Philip. To my shock horror and amazement, the opening ceremony was actually quite good. There was obviously going to be some ponsey dance group interpreting fencing, which was pants but they were followed by an acrobatic troupe of maybe 50 acrobats who put on an amazing display.

Special mention must go to the absolute dire straights that women's foil is in. Far more excruciatingly boring than watching paint dry; these ridiculously skilled and fit athletes put on a display that hardly anyone could bare to watch. Idiotically as well the organisors had put the two women's foil semis on before the men's sabre semis. Both matches went to time - I'm not even sure if any fencers scored over ten in either match. Much of the throng of locals who had crowded in to see the first finals of these championships, left after the first women's foil match and even more followed after the second. The crowd was much depleted by the time the sabre began.

Even more frustratingly I had to bare the women's foil final as well before the sabre final. The men's final made up for it though in a thrilling encounter that saw an on-fire Pina take Yakimenko to pieces. Then it was back to the hotel for some food and a post-competition beer. Benedict arrived that evening and was sharing my hotel room. Men's Epee, his weapon, was to be on Wednesday, starting at the same ungodly hour that my competition had begun. Philip's Foil was on Tuesday midday and Siobhán's sabre would follow men's epee on Wednesday.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Senior European Championships, Day Minus One

On Sunday morning I needed to be registered and accredited for the competition by 10am to confirm my entry into the competition. I met Nuala, the IAFF secretary, and Tom, the IAFF Chairman, in their hotel, Sofitel, which was just round corner from the Novotel, at 9am. Nuala is on the committee of the European Fencing Confederation and both herself and Tom were paid for by the EFC to be there.

We got a Taxi to the venue, the Topsporthal, to make sure we would be there before the registration closed. I dropped my gear into weapons check as soon as possible and started the long wait for it's return. It was a very impressive venue, the likes of which is sorely needed in Ireland. With a versatile indoor athletics venue as well as excellent warm-up and training facilities. A running track ran underneath the entire perimeter of the stands and a sceond large hall (larger than most in Ireland) provdided additional versatile space, in this case used to hold the over-spill of pistes from the main hall.

The weapons would not be ready till after two so we return to the town centre for lunch. We had lunch in a café near the hotel where we were joined by Tom's wife Anne. I'd decided to return to the venue at 3pm on the athlete's bus to collect my gear and do some light warm-ups and footwork before the competition the next day.

My equipment all passed and I went about doing some footwork, blade-work and stretches, needless to say all by myself.

My intention was to return on the 4.30pm bus back to the hotel. Around that time I returned to the reception of the venue but it appeared that there was only a bus coming to the venue at 4.30pm. In fact there was only two buses returning to the hotels all day - one set at 3pm and one set at 8.30pm. This ridiculous and wholly impractical bus timetable was to persist for the rest of the week.

A large group of other competitors had made the same mistake with the timetables and now a large amount of taxis was trying to be organised by one of the volunteers at reception. To annoy people further, the four buses were sitting in the car-park doing nothing. The group waiting for taxis grew irate as the Russians did their usual trick of arriving after everyone else and skipping in the queue. Pretty soon the Eastern Europeans were angry at the taxi drivers, the receptionist was angry at the Eastern Europeans and everyone was pissed-off with the Russians. The receptionist called the organisor of the buses and refused to do anymore.

Eventually the transport organisor arrived and arranged for one of the buses to leave for the town centre. They refused however to drop us at the Novotel however and dropped us instead at the Hotel Ibis 15 minutes walk away.

That evening Siobhán Byrne, our women's sabreur, arrived that before Dinner on a train from Frankfurt. Her coach, Naslimov, was also at the tournament, he declined an invitation to dinner but suggested we mind bring Marina, a American student of his, who was sharing a room with Siobhán. This seemed to be news to Siobhán, although she didn't mind at all as she was a friend of hers, and I have to say that my first impressions of this highly respected coach was that he was somewhat odd to say the least.

We went for Dinner in a restaurant by the canal that was very pleasant. I needed to get up very early for the competition the next morning but the meal dragged on somewhat mainly because of the excruciatingly slow service. We eventually returned to the hotel at around 10.30pm and I went straight to sleep since my weapon was due to start at 7.45am the next morning.

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