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Interview Yakimenko

Alexey Yakimenko: "At the Universiade I had to forget the riposte."

         Exactly those words were heard by Tatyana Kolchanova, the reporter of the International Charity Fund “For the future of Fencing” web site, from Alexey, when she called him in Bangkok to congratulate our sabre fencer on his win at the Universiade. To her question, what happened, Yakimenko said: “I'll tell about ridiculous current style of judging, when I come to Moscow”. At the Russian Championship, which is being held in Lobnya these days, the World Student Games Champion shared his impressions.

         Well, what really happened in Bangkok?

- I took part in the Universiade already for the fourth time. I was the winner in individual competitions twice and three times in team tournaments. The current Universiade became a serious challenge to both, saber fencers, and to referees as well. The participants of the competition, especially those ones from the leading sabre fencing countries, had difficulty in understanding the referees’ logic. We had to alter the bout strategy, trying to adapt to the referees demands.

         Why?

- In my understanding, the International Fencing Federation (FIE) used those competitions as a testing site for the new experiments in saber fencing. Upon introduction of video records replays of fencing bouts, which are watched by referees in slow mode, the real view gets distorted. In such replays a riposte, performed with disengagements, dodges, counter-disengagements, in the referees’ interpretation is incorrect, i.e., performed with a halt, rather than with a straight arm. Therefore, the winner is the fencer who is just stupidly parrying.

         But in this case, the core point of the sabre bout is changed; preference was always given to the fencer, who was better in terms of strategy.

- Absolutely right. In the final bout with Balash Lontay, Hungarian, with the score 10:10, according to the rules, applied in the World Championships and the World Cup tournaments, I should have got the last five hits. However, having made conclusions from referees’ judgment of previous bouts, I did not think twice before parrying; and when both signal lights were on, the referee, having watched the video record, found failures in the actions of my opponents. To be honest, I was really disappointed and decided: if I get such hits, why can’t I do the same?

         What consequences can be expected from such judgment?

 - If FIE doesn’t cancel such innovations, we can lose the medals at the Olympics. Moreover, sabre fencing will become extremely boring and incomprehensible to the spectators. When the rule was introduced to score the hit of the fencer, who made it 0.12 second earlier than his opponent, it was understandable to the spectators, why only one light turns on. But now the situation is messy: in case both lights are on, i.e., the hits are made simultaneously by both fencers, and one of them performs riposte, while the other is parrying, the referee’s decision is unpredictable. As a result, we are struggling not only for making a hit 0.12 second earlier than the opponent, but against improper riposte.

         You mean fencing is getting more primitive. The strongest features of the best world saber fencers – beautiful compound riposte with feints, which make an opponent fiercely defend himself, does not make sense any more?

- Yes, now it is dangerous to perform compound riposte. Those innovations give preference to the fencers of those countries, which have never had brilliant command in this kind of sport. Therefore, the FIE equalizes the chances of the countries with excellent fencing traditions, wise coaches and famous athletes, with those countries, where fencers are only beginning to master extremely complicated art of the bouts. Currently 124 countries have joined FIE, but only few of them are the world leaders there. There many ways for fencing development. Thus, training seminars can be arranged for athletes and coaches, training and coaching sessions with participation of representatives of the countries, where fencing is highly developed, and those who have joined fencing community only recently; tutorials, textbooks and video records can be issued, as it is done by the International Fencing Fund “For the future of Fencing”. At the same time, one can introduce changes to the rules, which distort the meaning of this kind of sport.

I hope hasty decisions on changes in judgment of saber bouts will not be introduced at the World Championship in St. Petersburg. In my understanding, the experiment, implemented in Universiade, was a failure. The arbiters only disappointed those people, who have proficient knowledge in fencing. Even Nikolay Kovalev and Veniamin Reshetnikov, the young fencers of the Russian fencing school, had difficulty to get adapted to the referees’ demands. Nothing was changed only to representatives of South Korea, who defeated us in semi-final team tournament. The reason is they are not performing riposte at all, but prefer parrying elements in the bouts. Hungarian, Italian, French fencers could not get the meaning of what was happening till the very end of competitions.

         Do you think it is possible that due to such innovations we will hear new names of the fencers, who are not considered as strong opponents, at the 2007 World Championship and the 2008 Olympics in Beijing?

- Upon introduction of the rule to record the hit made 0.12 second earlier than the one of the opponent, we have already heard the new names, such as Alexander Buykevich, Byelorussian fencer, Nicholas Limbakh, German and Ginny Van, Chinese, who have gained a great advantage over their opponents due to their long arms. Those tall fencers have not won the World Championship yet, but they have really racked the nerves of the Olympic winners Mikhay Kovalyu, Romanian, Aldo Montano, Italian and our fencer Stanislav Pozdnyakov.

         If you were commenting the saber bouts, how would you explain one or another referee’s decision to a spectator?

-         The spectator understands, when they tell him that one fencer initiated a riposte and completed it, while his opponent performed only counter parry, i.e., the latter was loosing in strategic initiative. In case the fencer parried the riposte successfully, he obtained the right for riposte. The comments should be simple and clear to any amateur, and it is achievable only with easily understandable rules, otherwise fencing popularization is impossible. Artificial equalizing the chances of very strong and average fencers, FIE ruins the attractiveness of our kind of sport. 

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         Do you agree with referee’s judgment when you are watching the bouts of other fencers? 

- It depends on the referee. For instance, international tournaments are judged by the leading group of referees, such as Marko Siesto, Italy, Marius Floria, Romania, Sholt Kaposhvary, Hungaria and some other experienced arbiters, who are real experts in fencing. They have their strong points of view, and I can’t disagree with them. However, like all human beings, they can make a mistake, but this is an occasional failure, rather than steady trend. If the arbitration methods at the World Championship will be the same as at Universiade, I would like to see the reaction of Stanislav Pozdnyakov, the world fencing leader. I think he will just tear the arbiters into pieces. Stas has an acute feeling of the time of a hit, he always verifies his movements to make them fine, and can get adapted to any changes of rules. Nevertheless, his performance will look distorted in a slow video replay.

         You think video replays are no good for fencing?

- They do not reflect the real time if the it. If the referee has doubts, he should watch the replay both, in real time and in slow mode, but not slower than four-fold, I think. Otherwise the picture gets drastically distorted. Saber fencing in Russia has always had an attacking character, as it is the attack, that brings success to a strong athlete. I believe, it is fair, that four-fold World Champions in fencing live in Russia: Victor Sidyak, Victor Krovopuskov and Stanislav Pozdnyakov.

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