Blog: Lam-Watson: On being new to competitive fencing
As a developing fencer, Lam-Watson also took the opportunity to compete at an IWAS Wheelchair Fencing satellite competition in Antibes, France, in April
Oliver Lam-Watson is a British wheelchair fencer. He is relatively new to the sport having competed at his first World Cup in Eger, Hungary, in February.
As a developing fencer, Lam-Watson also took the opportunity to compete at an IWAS Wheelchair Fencing satellite competition in Antibes, France, in April. These are designed to give up-and-coming athletes the chance to compete with fencers of similar abilities, before they go on to a higher level.
Here Lam-Watson compares the two experiences and explains why he found the satellite competition so enjoyable.
The 2018 IWAS Wheelchair fencing satellite in Antibes.
Where do I start? Maybe with a detailed comparison between this years’ and the last? Or by juxtaposing IWAS satellites and full fat World Cups?
The problem with doing either of these, is that the experience was all such a blur of gel sachets and handi-fix frames that it’s hard to recall the whole weekend. Also, between you and me, I’m very new to wheelchair fencing, and when I say new, I mean shiny new epee guard new. Currently I really lack the experience and understanding of the sport to really delve into said topics at any given length. IWAS wanted someone who could write a short, informative and interesting news piece, they were busy, so here I am.
Now, what I can offer is an account of my experience, as a British athlete attending his third competition – an IWAS satellite competition in Antibes, France.
I guess the most logical place to start is the venue. It was a large gym facility somewhere west of Nice, the kind of gym you see in movies or used to play dodge ball or badminton in when you were a kid, the kind that feels instantly familiar. A few hours after arriving I watched the mats, the handi-fixes and the scoring units being set out. Butterflies filled my stomach. It was now less familiar to me, or maybe still familiar just in a different way… reminiscent of Hungary, Eger.
That was the World Cup I had attended just a few months before, my first World Cup, my first international. I was excited, then quickly anxious, I bounced between the two for the rest of the day. In the eight months that I’ve been fencing I’ve not really figured out how to deal with the nerves of competition yet.
Fast forward 24 hours. People begin to warm up, white socks pulled up to the knees, I hang my GBR mask on the back of my chair and push it over to where I think I’m supposed to be. But this is not my piste, I continue to tour all the pistes on a sort of fencing safari, bumping into wild fencers at each turn. Eventually, I find my own. Of course it’s the last one. My lack of French is becoming un petit peu of an inconvenience.
When I recall these competitions I don’t really remember the fights, all the points, getting hit and landing flicks. I mostly remember the mundane parts, such as looking for the wire, an old epee wire, bound in leather, closed with poppers. I tuck it under my left leg and test my weapon. I’m sure there’s some science behind it, some explanation of flight or flight for the reason my memory escapes me when it comes to the exciting part of the bout, or maybe I’m just terribly forgetful. Either way, I’ve just won my first pool match. Thoughts of gold medals and podiums burst into my mind. This I remember vividly. Six matches later, I’m five up, one down. I refuse to admit that I’m pleased and I’m doing well. Even when people congratulate me, I remind myself I’m not out the woods yet.
I’m pleasantly surprised by how welcoming and friendly all of the French athletes and coaches are. I must admit I was worried that I might be seen as an outsider, the Englishman. However it couldn’t have been more opposite. French athletes giving me advice on how to deal with his team mate in my next DE [direct elimination], coaches telling me to use my body more in order to avoid throwing away points with one of his fencers. I battle my way through two DE’s using the advice from my adopted coaches and new found team mates. I find myself in a new situation… the top four. The Englishman cometh. There’s a lump in my throat, I think it might be a medal, bronze for sure or maybe silver. I don’t let myself say the G word. Gold, there I said it… the thought forces its way into my mind. I know this isn’t what I should be thinking about. My thoughts have betrayed me. I should be thinking about the fact I’m 6-14 down to a boy called Enzo. What a cool name, the thought passes through my head. 6-15, the match is over.
With my limited experiences of World Cups, competitions and fencing in general, it’s hard for me to really give you an in-depth and informative account of the day. However, these satellite competitions are also quite new to the world of fencing. I feel an instant connection with them. They are smaller and less intense than the World Cups and also offer you, the fencer, an opportunity to really integrate with the fencers and coaches of the host nation. This is more so than at World cups, which from my experience, every county is a little bit more clique-y.
It allows a more intimate experience, perfect for a beginner, or even someone who’s just looking to gain more experience. I would like to say it’s fun for the whole family, PG rated, and a safe environment to nurture your skills but I would be lying. It still possesses the edge, the bite and the ferocity of his older brother the World Cup.
Don’t expect any freebies or a walk in the park to the podium. The athletes are still there to win, resulting in an interesting almost World Cup 101 experience which I would highly recommend to anyone looking to up their game.