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Vladimir Smirnov

Vladimir Smirnov has passed away undefeated.

Victor Zhdanovich, the Soviet foil fencer, has won the Olympic Games for the first time in 1960. Twenty years later, his success was achieved again by Vladimir Smirnov. Other Russian foil fencers have never won in individual competitions at Olympic Games neither in the Soviet time, nor later.

Reference: Vladimir Smirnov (20.05.1954 - 27.07.1982)
1980 Olympic Games Champion in foil, silver prize winner in Games-80 command tournament in foil. The World Champion of 1981 in individual competitions. The World Champion in 1979-1981 in team competitions. The winner of the World Cup in 1980, 1981. The USSR Champion in 1977, 1979, the Champion of the USSR Republican Tournament in 1979, bronze prize winner at the Olympic Games-80 in command competitions in foil.

In his childhood, Vladimir Smirnov tried various kinds of sports: hockey, football, basketball. Upon an invitation of Yevgeny Syromyatnikov, the fencing coach, who worked in his native town Rubezhnoye (Lugansk region in Ukraine), Vladimir came to the fencing club, got attracted by that romantic kind of sport, and stayed there forever. At Ukraine championships, the athletically built guy with a shy look in his open face has attracted the attention of Viktor Bykov,the well-known Kiev coach, who had already prepared the silver prize winners of the World Cups Sergei Paramonov and Yuri Chizh. Volodya’ fencing was not extremely skillful, but thanks to extraordinary physical force, he could break through the defense of any competitor.

Bykov has developed a long-term program for his trainee. He decided not to rush, to take their time. Volodya was following the coaching program carefully and thoughtfully. They used to stay in one room during training get-togethers, and Bykov remembers that often in the middle of the night Smirnov would wake him up with the words: "I’ve got an idea, let’s try a new trick." Having hardly waited till six in the morning, they would already be in the salle.

Only once Smirnov has violated his coach’s program. In 1977, Bykov has set up the goal for his trainee to get into the group of final eight competitors at the USSR Championship. Volodya, having got in the finals, has summoned up all his strength and became the winner. It became clear that this athlete was capable to fight for the highest places in tournaments and the World Championships. At the Olympic Games of 1980 all Soviet foil fencers got in the final group of six competitors: Alexander Romankov, who had the title of the three-fold World Champion in individual competitions and the silver prize winner of 1976 Montreal Games, Vladimir Smirnov and Sabir Ruziyev .

Tatiana Kolchanova has described the events of one day of the Olympics in her book "Fencing Personalities”:
"It seemed the situation could not be better. Before that day only question was under dispute: who will be the winner – Romankov or Smirnov, who was more reserved, cautious, did not take risks in fencing, which could play the decisive role in the tense atmosphere of serious competitions. However, the Olympics, like an innovative producer, has prepared a surprise in the final bouts, turned them into a fascinating performance, which made the competitions especially tense and nervous to the participants, even to those spectators, who accidentally dropped in to watch fencing bouts.
Everything happened because of Pascal Zholio, who intervened in competitions for the medal and looked as an embodiment of a musketeer, a fairy tail prince. He was fencing with such grace and elegance, that his foil looked like a golden needle. Romankov wanted to prove he was the strongest, Smirnov was fighting for the right to be called the winner, while Zholio was enjoying fencing in graceful, truly French fashion. With dazzling smile, he looked as a person who has nothing to lose, but who could win the whole world. We know, the Olympics love the newcomers and give them special treatment. Getting prepared to the Olympics, professionals pull together all their efforts, strength and courage for four years, it is not easy to them to stay calm and keep up fresh perception of the bout. It is difficult to wake up and go to bed with the only idea that you need to win, you just have to do it. Unlike them, Pascal has just reached his twenty first year and he was still not aware of his great potential. He did not bothered by ambitious dreams and slept very well.

During the decisive bouts between Russian strongest fencers, the spectators could not always notice, how Smirnov makes his hits to Romankov, but due to the reaction of Romankov and Ernst Asiyevsky, his coach, they realized that something unusual was happening. Having lost, Alexander looked discouraged, he was retrieving from the strip with the drooped head, walking as if he was carrying a heavy burden.
Smirnov’s reaction to his defeat to Zholio was different. He clenched his fists, his face looked inscrutable and numb.

Everybody was looking forward for the last bout between Romankov and Zholio. With four victories in his stock, the young hero was demonstrating his glorious smile to the camera men, who were eager to catch the sensation, making dozens of photos of potential Champion. The Champion is exercising. The Champion and his coach. The Champion puts on his mask, etc.

The bout between Romankov and Zholio was breathtaking. There was a moment, when the score was 4:4 and only one hit could decide the outcome of the battle, the spectators jumped up from their seats and started screaming: “Sasha, Sashenka, Sahsa!”, trying to support Alexander. The reporters were silent; what words could they find? The opponents at the strip took their time, the risk was too high. They were moving in short steps, trying to guess the potential actions of each other. And here Romankov decided to take the risk. He liked risky fencing and the point, when the bout strategy could be abruptly changed. He started a vigorous attack, and Zholio was retreating at the same pace. Some spectators shut their eyes. The risk was too high, the chances to reach the competitor were unbelievable, nobody could do it. And suddenly the audience screamed, a thunderous applause filled in the salle, but the glorious voice of the winner was even louder. He was jumping up on the strip and turning around in the air.

Now there were three potential champions. Romankov has defeated Smirnov, but lost to Zholio. Smirnov has defeated Zholio. Now, each of them had one victory and the chances for the medal depended only on the score of hits. Smirnov was the best in this respect, Zholio was the second, Romankov the third one. Two of them looked happy, Sasha Romankov was discouraged. But this is sports. This is the way it happens in fencing, where the victory does not depend only on one result, high speed or distance. A fencer has to go out to the strip dozens of times in the season, held 20-40 bouts at every tournament, fight with the same competitors stay unpredictable to them, bewilder them, try to guess their potential tricks.

To be able to do it, one has to be a freak like Smirnov, who would suffer in the night about a missed hit and wake up his coach, if he invented a new trick and was eager to train it right now."

After the victory in Moscow, Vladimir did not lose in any other competition, became the World Champion in 1981 and won a victory in the World Student Games in the same year. In 1982 he was going to the World Cup to gain a victory again. During all those years he was supported by his wife Emma. They have met, when they were both sixteen and were together ever since then. Four years later they got married and had two kids, the son Dima and daughter Olya. In 1982, Dima was six years old and Olya was five. They were well aware what their father was doing, and very proud of his successes.
On July 20, 1982 at the World Cup competition, Smirnov had a bout with Matheus Ber, the German foil fencer. Both competitors demonstrated powerful, athletic fencing. In one attack Ber’s foil got broken, while Smirnov was rushing forward, and the stub, having pierced his mask, got through his eye and penetrated in the brain for 15 centimeters. In fact, Smirnov died immediately, though he was kept up with reviving devices for eight days more. After the devices were disconnected, his body was delivered to Kiev by plane. All those days Emma was trying to break through bureaucratic obstacles to be able to get to Rome, but failed. .Ber has left the strip for many years . The International Fencing Federation has introduced strict requirements to the outfits. Fencing outfits are made now of Kevlar bullet-proof fabric, the masks are made of impervious steel, the blades - of the "Maraging”, practically unbreakable steel.
Smirnov had to die to make the International Fencing Federation to take care of security in our kind of sports. Though earlier, at the Olympics in Moscow, Vladimir Lapitskogo, Smirnov’s teammate, had a narrow escape from the death. During the semi-final command competition with the national team of Poland, a stub of the blade pierced Lapitsky chest in the heart area. In that case our foiler was lucky, as the hit was mitigated by the rib.

Emma still lives in Kiev. Four years after her husband's death she got married. Nevertheless, even now, remembering the summer of 1982, she cries and says: "That punch has ruined my life. I was really very happy with Vladimir. And all our life could have been different."

In Lugansk, the native city of the unique fencer, an annual tournament is held in the memory of Vladimir Smirnov.

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