Monday, 11 June 2012

The Stars

"Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you'll land among the stars."

I once received a card from a very good friend at University, with this quotation on the front.  Over the last two years I have shot for the moon, but now it is the stars that I lie among; I was not destined to be The Eagle, landing on the surface of the moon.  The selection decisions for the London 2012 Olympic Games were made a few weeks ago.  Obviously I was disappointed not to make the Games, but not with the decision to omit me.  Unfortunately, my performances in the World Cup competitions over the last year, were not up to scratch, below the minimum level for selection and far below my own expectations, and thus I was not discussed in those meetings.  

Why? Is generally a good question - for me - why did I not perform as I was capable of in the qualification window? But also other questions come to mind: Do I believe that my results were reflective of my ability? No. Do I believe that my technique is deficient? No. Was I just unlucky? Also no. Why did it not come together? why? A question that no doubt, I will continue to ask myself for some time, and in good time I will do a review.  The truth is that I fully believe that I am a far better athlete than I have ever been before, with better technique and ability, and yet have done far worse over the course of a season than I have ever done before. It still doesn't make sense to me.  

Looking back, I see all the hard work I have put in.  The effort I have taken at every training session, every conditioning session, at sports psychology, by finding a nutritionist, by doing everything I could while supporting myself.  The highs, such as winning the Commonwealths and the too numerous lows that I have felt at recent World Cup events.  I do not regret any of it. I am not even sure that I would do too much differently.  I set out to give myself two years, and the best possible chance of making the Olympic Games - and that I did.  

In my first blog, entitled 'Setting out for Ithaca', I said that my journey to Ithaca would take two years.  But the truth is that I have not yet found my Ithaca.  Odysseus wandered for ten years on his return from the Trojan War, even glimpsing the shores of his homeland before being swept away by the winds, escaping from their prison.  My journey is not yet complete. My future is still very uncertain, with nothing lined up after the end of the school year at the beginning of July.  When I called the 2012 Olympics my Ithaca I was wrong. Ithaca is more than an event or a happening and I do not now think that you know when you will find it.  Ithaca is the culmination of a journey and at the same time the beginning of another.  Once Odysseus finally returned home, he had to rid his house of suitors, and then set out almost immediately on another expedition.  My journey so far has definitely been long, and full of adventure and instruction. 

I finish this blog post with the words of Constantine Cavafy's poem Ithaca, which I quoted in my first, and which now I more fully understand: 

 Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don't in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.
Ithaka gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn't anything else to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka hasn't deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you'll have understood what these Ithakas mean.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

An overdue update has been two months, unbelievably, since I last updated this blog...perhaps the 'quickest' two months of my life. As expected time seems to speed up, it is now 2012, Olympic year, and life is certainly very busy.  The World Cup season has started and we are nearing the end of the qualifying tournaments.  This blog is going to take the form of a diary so that you can see what I've been up to in the run-in to February.  

After returning from a good result in France it was back to training ahead of the UK National Championships.  The Nationals, happening in December as opposed to their usual summer date were a well run event and the Finals Hall was particularly impressive.  So too was my fencing in the poules as I came through what was a tricky group, recording several 5-0 victories as I had in St Jean, to be seeded #1 for the direct elimination stages.  I was given a bye through the first round and then beat club-mate Joe Nickel 15-0 in the last 32.  Unfortunately I started slowly in the next round and was edged out in the last 16, a great disappointment considering how well I had fenced previously.  I believe that the staging of this event at this period in the calendar is much better for the elite athletes as it fits with our periodisation, rather than occuring in the summer off-season; however the attendance at the competition was a little disappointing presumably because of the festivities around Christmas.  
There was no rest after the Nationals as later that week I was off to Grantham, back to the army barracks to eat army food in the cold for a five day preparation camp ahead of the new season.  The camp went really well as I continued my good form and continued to develop some new things I have been working on.  On returning home I did not rest until I had a couple of days away over New Year with friends, which was a short refreshing break before the jet-set began again in earnest.  


During January I was lucky enough to spend a week and a half at INSEP, the French National Training Facility, training with their centralised and funded squad of c.15 athletes.  It was a fantastic sparring opportunity and has really assisted my development.  Coupled with the first week I spent there, I competed in Strasbourg, a joint French and German ranking competition, in which five members of the world's top 16 were competing.  Again, I fenced well, losing two in the first round poules to Lopez (FRA) and Apithy (BEN) and continued this in the direct elimination fighting my way into the last 32.  There I fenced Lamboley (FRA) a finalist in last year's Budapest Grand Prix and a quality opponent.  Unfortunately for me, I snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and when tired, got stuck and lost 14-15 from being in a winning position of 11-4.  Although the loss was a shock, I was pleased with how I fenced overall and just needed to get over the line.  Later in the month I returned to INSEP for half a week training with the German as well as French teams.  


The month has started with the annual trip to Plovdiv, Bulgaria.  In all honesty the competition passed me by.  I think the stress of the occasion got to me slightly and I didn't perform.  Certainly I did not fence to the levels I expect of myself and watching my performance back on video was like watching someone else.  However, there were good lessons to learn, which I have done and I have now moved on and am looking forward to heading out to Padua, Italy tomorrow for the next World Cup.  We are now away every other week so there is not much time to adapt and reflect, instead a constant switch of focus is required.  Of course leaving Bulgaria is never easy (see my blog here) and again it was not this year as we were snowed in at Sofia Airport and had to stay an extra night. Also, whoever decided to schedule a World Cup competition on the outskirts of Venice on Valentine's weekend needs their brain checked, but these complications occur in life.  What I need to do now is put the distractions aside, focus and get the job done.  Here goes....

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

En France

To complete my winter preparation for next season's World Cups I recently ventured to France for the French ranking event, St Jean de la Ruelle.  Just like Amsterdam I travelled completely on my own, but unlike then I also stayed completely on my own, as none of my other teammates or club mates were competing in my event.  I have to say though, I found it quite rewarding and exhilarating, travelling around Europe on my own to fencing competitions.  It was as if I was on my own Odysseian adventure, although thankfully it did not take me 10 years to reach home.  

As for the competition itself I was delighted to discover Glenn Sancroft and his new fiancee Jennifer McMillan, from Scotland were there, whose French language skills were slightly better than my Del-boy level abilities..'bonnet de douche, Rodney, bonnet de douche'.  Seriously though, I did perfect one sentence, "pardon,  Je ne parle fran├žais".  While Chrystall Nicoll and Jo Hutchison arrived later in time to fence in the women's event.  
The French events have a slightly strange format.  The top 28 on the French rankings (including any fencers in the top 50 of the world rankings) are separated from everyone else and fence in four poules of seven.  The rest (group B) fence their poules and then the results are amalgamated, with all of group A seeded above B (i.e. in places 1-28) and then the direct elimination begins.  I won 6/6 poule fights, which achieved my first target and was seeded 2nd out of 104, or rather 30/132 after the amalgamation.  As a result of this system it means that it is extremely difficult to break into the top 16 as the top seeds of B, will fence those of A who have done best in the last 32.  In fact one could argue that it is slightly easier to lose a poule fight and thus end up with a more middling draw in the last 32, of course though, it is harder to reach the last 32.  In any case, I fenced Haberer, an experienced French international, who unfortunately had too much for me on the day.  

However, I believe that the competition was a success.  I had achieved my two primary targets of winning all my poule fights and reaching the 32, and although 26th place does not sound all that good, I felt I had done well.  Before it was time to get the Eurostar back home I was able to watch Chrystall and Jo in the finals of the women's event, who came 2nd and 3rd respectively, which was good to see.  Most importantly the competition was good exposure for me to European fencing and is helping push me towards the big competition next summer.  Less than 7 months to go now, about 7 weeks until qualification resumes and let's just say its certainly very exciting....