Stanislav Pozdniakov is one of the greatest sabre fencers of all time. His multiple world championships and the way that he can come into a team event and dominate the matches have made him a legend, and his bouts should be required viewing for any competitive sabre fencer.
Serge Timacheff sat down with Poz in Las Vegas for an interview about the upcoming World Championships and Beijing Olympics.
We start out with the goals for Vegas and the World Championships:
Pozdniakov: This year, our main goal is the preparation for Olympic games. And the most important part of our season is the team event.
Timacheff: And your – try and tell us something about what you’ve been doing for training.
Pozdniakov: This is the most important competition. At the end of the season – we are basically doing very light practice at the beginning of the season, and then increasing the intensity of practice at the end of the season, so we could be better prepared for the most important competition.
So, at the end of the season, we are fencing more rather than conditioning more. So, we are doing a lot of fencing exercises and fencing by the end of the season.
Timacheff: What’s a normal training schedule for you and how does it work?
Pozdniakov: Usually, during fencing training camp, we practice twice a day, two and a half hours a day.
Timacheff: And what do you do during that two and a half hours?
Pozdniakov: First 30 minutes are stretching and warming up. Then 15 minutes of foot work. Then 30 minutes individual lessons. And one hour to one hour, 15 minutes fencing practice with other fencers.
Timacheff: One of the most astounding things about world class sabre fencing, and especially the way you do it, is the absolute power and speed and strength that you see on the piste that you don’t see normally in club competition, in lower level competition. How do you achieve that and how do you – how do you get to the point that you’re able to integrate that so deeply with your game that it becomes second nature?
Pozdniakov: Meaning that during practice you don’t see, but during bouts?
Timacheff: Well, when you – when you see it at smaller competitions and lower level fencers, you don’t see it so much. You see it at the world – the first time you go to a world competition and you see men’s sabre, you – it’s amazing as to how powerful it is. How do you create that difference?
Pozdniakov: Personal experience plays the main role, and during my 20 years fencing career, I actually fenced at the low level competitions and then at the high level competitions. So, this experience helped me a lot.
Timacheff: So, at 33, you’re – as one of the older fencers fencing at your level, how is age a help and how is it a challenge?
Pozdniakov: The age – the age is decreasing the conditioning level and decreasing the speed. But, with time, you get so much experience that you can control the situation on the street much better.
Timacheff: And, obviously, experience gives you a great advantage psychologically. What – how do you integrate the psychological factors into sabre?
Pozdniakov: The psychological aspects of fencing is extremely important in fencing and he’s trying to actually start reading something at the beginning of the season, and then it gives you a lot of advantage and some sort of confidence level. And, also, it, basically, makes your opponent a little bit worried about your level of confidence.
So, on the one hand, psychologically, you are strong and it makes your opponents weak and kind of even being intimidated by you.
Timacheff: One of the psychological factors that we see in fencing today that’s changed some is the factor of video refereeing. And video refereeing, some people are saying can interrupt the momentum of the bout. But, other people are also saying that, perhaps, it can be used to their advantage if they need a break, if they need to catch their breath. How do you feel about video refereeing?
Pozdniakov: Overall, I like video refereeing. But, there is a situation right now that if you have weak – weak directors then it takes it and makes it even more obvious that this director is not at the level to direct. Because if he cannot get the place right at the beginning, and then even after the video refereeing, he cannot get it right, then it creates a problem because it’s obvious to everybody that this director is just a weak director.
And, for me, video refereeing is very important – extremely important because it gives me a chance to actually make a pause when I really need it – to take a break – to – like – Even at the situation when I know I lost the touch, I would use video refereeing for my tactical advantage to take this break and to change the momentum.
Timacheff: Who do you see as the strongest fencers on the Russian team today and what are their – how are you structuring them, for example, for a team in order to use their strengths to the best advantage?
Pozdniakov: Obviously, the leader of Russian team is also the leader in world cup standing, Alexei Yakimenko, who actually this year won several competitions – several world cups.
But, my position on the team is also extremely important because with my experience and with my knowledge, I can actually take initiative in my hand at this extremely important moment.
And then number three, number four position, we actually have seen our talented junior fencers – our young fencers, particularly Nicolai Kovalev who, in my opinion, in the future, will show great results.
Timacheff: If you – let’s put ourselves forward to the finals in St. Petersburg and let’s say that you’ve made the finals. Who is absolutely the person you would not like to see at all be your opponent for the finals?
Pozdniakov: For the gold – or to make for the gold?
I think that I don’t have any name I can give you. Basically, he doesn’t carry it.
Timacheff: Aldo Montano says he’s listening in on the interview. And who – tell us who – as you continue to get older – as we all get older – who is the next Podzniakov?
Pozdniakov: I think in our sport every great fencer is extremely different from another fencer and he has individuality and charisma and style. So, I – there is no second Montano or second Covaliu, second Podzniakov. Every great fencer’s absolutely different – special, basically.
Timacheff: What about for next year and the Olympics? What are your plans for preparation for the Olympics at this point?
Pozdniakov: First of all, the most important competition for us – competitions that will actually bring us to the Olympic games – selection for the Olympic games. So, we have to make sure we do very well at this competition, so we’ll make an Olympic team.
And then soon as we know that we are fencing in Olympic games, as a team, then we’ll start planning the preparation for the Olympic games.
Just one thing I want to mention that if we make Olympic games as a team, then we will be prepared for Olympic games in Novosibirsk which is my system – my native city and it’s in Siberia and it’s only one hour time difference from Beijing. But, that’s definitely not in Moscow, but in Novosibirsk.
Timacheff: As to – back to the world championships for one moment, we – everyone is looking forward to coming to St. Petersburg and to Russia for the world championships, what kind of an experience can we all expect in St. Petersburg – all of the fencers?
Pozdniakov: So, first of all, I want to mention that St. Petersburg is becoming not only the cultural capital of Russia like it used to be, but also economical and financial capital of Russia.
And the full integration with historical and architectural and cultural significance of St. Petersburg – so, we have economical and financial with historical integration and September is one of the best months to visit St. Petersburg.
And also the organization of this tournament is going to be done by a company that also is the organizer of tennis – big tennis tournaments – St. Petersburg Open – and he thinks that the organization of the tournament will be done on the highest level comparable only with Olympic games.
Timacheff: Finally, for many people – many people – many fencers look up to you. In fact, on Fencing.net, if – some people have said Podzniakov is my god. So, what – if you were to write a book about – called “Fence Like Podzniakov”, what would be the basis of it? What advice would you give sabre fencers to be able to fence like Podzniakov?
Pozdniakov: It’s very difficult for me to give advice, but I would like to tell you one slogan of my life.
Life is like an icy ladder.
Timacheff: Like an icy ladder?
Pozdniakov: Yes. And you have to move up really energetically.
Timacheff: You have to move up?
Pozdniakov: Very energetically with a lot of energy or you will slide down.
So, life is like, again, an icy ladder. So, when you climb up, you have to be really, really energetic or you won’t be able to climb up ‘cause you slip and fall down.
Timacheff: Well, good luck with the season and thank you for your time. And this is Serge Timacheff for Fencing.net.