Allex from SwordSport kindly translated an interview with Russian saber fencer, and 2011 World Cup Points Winner Alexey Yakimenko from the Russian site Championat.com:
November 17 2011 Moscow – At the moment, Alexey Yakimenko is the first Saber of the world ranking and the undisputed leader of the Russian team. In his trophy case – Bronze in the Team Competition from the Athens Olympics, and three World Championships gold medals. In addition, Alex is a two-time European Individual Champion. For a complete collection he does not have only the highest award of the Olympic Games. Yakimenko shared his perspectives for the London2012 Individual and Team events and many other insights with the “championat.com.”
CC – Alex, please share your impressions of the performances at the recent World Championships.
AY – Just so happens that we have won the second consecutive Team Saber Event, and this year we were even more confident. The 2011 World Championship, of course, differs from the Paris one, by affecting the Olympic qualification and seeding. Needless to say, the burden of responsibility for this event was great. We knew that if the failed at the Championship of the World, then it will be very difficult to qualify for the Games in London. We did what had to be done: solved the problem of getting to the Olympics. I think you need to quickly forget about this World Title, and start preparing for London.
CC – However, in the individual competition at the Championship of the Planet you have suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Dmitri Lapkes. What do you attribute this match’s outcome to?
AY – I will say this: the viewer or a fan will never understand the reasons for this defeat, and will not be able to accept it. Only a professional will get it. In this case – Christian Bauer. The fact is, that throughout the season, I participated in seven World Cup events, three of which I won, twice I was third, and twice finished fifth. In addition, I won the Individual Title at the European Championships, and won the Overall World Cup. It was psychologically difficult to maintain such a high pace throughout the season. Of course, I could have skipped a tournament, or not fence as hard in a particular bout, there were a lot of options to support a higher form before the World Championships, but it should not be done that way. And if we want to win the Olympic Games in the Team and Individual competitions, we need to be able to keep this level of psychological preparation for the entire season.
So… the defeat was more psychological, and by the score of 15:14, nevertheless. That means : even though my mental approach was wrong for this bout, it was a fight to the last cut. Maybe if I won that match, no one would have remembered it. The bout itself actually was very unmemorable, as well as it’s refereeing. I’ve certainly no complaints about the referees, but all the same. Still, if the circumstances were in my favor, if it was my day, the match in my opinion, would have ended in my victory. In addition, Dmitri Lapkes is one of the best saber fencer of the world, he is a very experienced athlete, and is quite high in the rankings, so it is not a shame to lose. But on the other hand, I certainly regret that this psychological dropoff occurred at the World Championships. A few days later I had a psychological lift. That is, I had to lose to begin winning again. It is the law of sport, I guess. In the team competition, we realized our potential by 100%, and in particular I was pleased by the way I fenced.
CC – Do you think that all athletes in the Top 10 of the World Rankings will be able to contend for the gold medal in the Olympiad, or will the candidates’ range will be more narrow?
AY- The fact is, that in 2011 I intentionally focused on a high place in the rankings. I want to say that next season I’ll give it less attention. We understand that those leaders of the fencing world, who have already guaranteed themselves Olympic tickets will not try to climb high in the rankings. If you are contending to win in such competitions as the European or World Championships, Olympic Games you need to beat everyone. So there isn’t much of a difference with what rating you will enter the Olympics. A victory in London can be absolutely anyone’s. Prime example of this is the success of Zhong Man (China) at the Games in Beijing. Now he is not visible. I do not even remember if he was in the Round of 32 at a World Cup event this year.
CC – Sophia Velikaya won her most important individual medal at the recent World Championships. What factors do you think, played a decisive role in her success, and the win over the formidable American Mariel Zagunis?
AY – Well, Sophia has already beaten Zagunis in 2011 at the “Moscow Saber” in a terrific bout. Of course, the role of luck in the World Championship Title is mandatory. Each winner must be fortunate to a certain degree, despite his level of fencing. Sonia had to win, her victory was expected no less than mine. Yet, Women have a slightly different system of selection for the Olympics. They have the personal qualifications, rather than Team, and she could not show a sign of weakness at this World Championship, the way it happened to me. She could keep herself in a great psychological condition, because she knew that it meant a selection for London. Of course, she has been heading in right direction for a long time. In her career Sonia has had an incredible number of third and second places. She needed to win something! In principle, based on her results this season, it was obvious that she was going to win the Championship of the World. She consistently finished in Top 8 or Top 3 in various events. Some tournaments she won. Of course, there were letdowns, for example, at the European Championships. And yet she was able to approach the World Cup in good psychological shape and win this tournament. There perhaps, lies the advantage which played a significant role in her victory.
CC – After the World Championship, many experts have said that the Russian National Team is capable of winning the Olympic gold in Saber. Do you think so? And what do you need to ensure that our athletes are able to perform so well?
AY – To listen less to the experts. I will have no comment on that. The experts have a right to believe in what they predict. This is hellish labor, and I do not think that any self-respecting athlete can tell you what place he will get. It is simply unrealistic. So I will leave this experts’ opinion without comment. Forecast for the Olympics – a thankless task.
CC – Some time ago there was talk that fencing in Russia does not have enough funding. How do you think things are now?
AY – I certainly would not compare fencing to football (soccer), hockey or tennis. You see, there is show business, and these sports are show-sports, so to speak. Athletes’ earnings there are just unimaginable. Yet players manage to hold lockouts, as for example in the NBA, because they are poorly paid. Fencing – a totally different sport. It is remembered only at the Olympics, because of the expectations of our athletes to win gold medals. And in what disciplines they traditionally rely on the prizes? Wrestling, fencing, gymnastics and so on. Six months before the Olympics there is talk about those sports that bring medals.
With regards to fencing, I was in the Cadet national team in 1997 and until 2004 did not earn anything at all. Now, of course, everything has changed. Ministry of Sports is making its best efforts, so does the fund of Olympians Sponsorship, as well as, sponsors who love fencing and support athletes. The system, of course, is very harsh – you have to be on the National Team and bring medals. But it is also fair, because it is precisely what it pays for. Personally, I never complained about shortage in funding. I am always happy with what I have. The reason : motivation should come not only from money, but also from the love for your country,for your sport, for your occupation.
CC – Do you think it is possible that in fencing someday it’s own Suleiman Kerimov will appear, who will lead the sport to completely new heights?
AY – There is President of the FIE – Alisher Usmanov, who previously was the President of the Russian Fencing Federation. Of course, he gives tremendous support to the athletes, without it there would be difficulties. I am very glad that people who do a lot for our Country outside of sport, are fond of fencing, and help the athletes, understanding at the same time that we are quite far from the soccer players.
CC – You probably keep track of our young fencers’ performances. Are there any kids that can replace you in a some time?
AY – Of course, I often see the ones who train and spend training camps with us. To assess their level of fencing is not up to me, since I am not a coach. If you look at the current Russian Men’s Team, I am 28 years old, and the other guys – 25. We are not planning to leave anytime soon.
CC – Well, if we talk about the longer term, say, a decade?
AY – In 10 years the current 10-year-old children will be 20. This is not just our replacement, but of several generations. And now it is too early to talk about their prospects. I’ve heard in interviews that we developing a second Alina Kabaeva or a third Alexander Karelin. All this is not the actual case.
When the time comes for youth to arrive, let’s ask them then. What can we demand from them now? Let them train, let them try to push someone out pf the National Team. And if they will succeed in ousting anyone, for example, even me, I’ll be only pleased. I love fencing, love my sport, so I can only wish success to our youth.
CC – Tell us about Christian Bauer. What kind of person is he in real life?
AY – Basic life of Bauer is fencing.
CC – What kind of a coach is he?
AY – It may take several hours to completely discuss him. Since the amount of work that he performs throughout the day, week, cycle, is simply insane. Honestly – the training is extremely difficult for me, I get exhausted out of my mind, it is incredibly complex for everyone, we do suffer. Yet he does even more than we do. In addition to the training process he is responsible for the large number of documents, statistics, and so on. He completely gives himself to his work, and it is incredibly hard to describe him in a few words. Perhaps what I said about him, characterizes his work.
Interview by Nikolay Novgorodkiy
Translated by AG
Thanks to Allex for the translation. Allex is working with SwordSport.com on several PR related projects for fencing.