The Russian Campaign of "General" Cerioni A battle fought at below zero to unfreeze Russian foilists and making them grow Italian style by Guido Alessandrini, Tuttosport 03.26.2013 Truth to be told, it is a bit shocking to see Stefano Cerioni wearing a blue warmup suit with "RUSSIA" written on it. He, the Italian from Jesi, Italy's Olympic foil champion (Seoul 1988), CT of the Italian squad and of the Dream Team who just seven month ago devoured the London Olympics as if it were a croissant for breakfast. One of ours, for life--we thought. Instead, after indiscretions, discussions, upsets, and even a bit of polemics he did it for real. CT for Russia, in Russia. His first sentence last Saturday in Turin while wearing that strange warmup suit, sounds intriguing... "I thought it would be better…" RUSSIAN THAWING Indeed, because we Italians are convinced that outside our country, which looks to us out of breath and in the doldrums, everything seems to be beautiful and perfect, and in Russia, which in sport is a true superpower, everything is working beautifully. Not so. Not at all. For sure, the very Italian Cerioni started his Russian campaign some weeks ago and therefore the results will bloom way after the end of winter, which over there is a serious thing, after the traditional spring thaw. But certain little signs can be seen already. Like Inna Deriglazova (1990) winning three of the first five stages of this season's World Cup, or that the teams are now working quite differently. For the time being these are just details. Stefano Cerioni (R) with Larisa Korobeynikova (L) and Inna Deriglazova at the award ceremony of the FIE Grand-Prix "Fleuret de St.Petersbourg" Photo by Mike Kireev WHAT BACKYARD? Q: Let's begin with your move to Russia... SC: "I landed in Moscow on January 25th. First shock: 10 degrees F. But it was a bright, sunny day with a blue sky--this never happened to me in Moscow over so many years traveling there as an athlete or CT. Everything was always gray and sad. I took this as a good omen. My new home is nice, three stories, in a brand new section in the city's northwest suburbs, near the training center. There is also a nice backyard, I think. My landlord gave me a lawn mower with the recommendation to cut the grass. Problem is that now the grass is under 5 feet of snow and at night the temperature drops to minus 15 degrees F…" THE "SHOP" Q: OK, in these first two months your life is limited to home-and-shop. We are curious about the second, of course. SC: "I just said, I thought it would be better. I found athletes who were tired, bored. Bored to do always the same things which often were ineffective." Q: Isn't Russia the master/leader in training methodology? SC: "Maybe, but this is not the case in foil for sure. Starting from the warmup routine, which is the first step. For them four minutes of movements without any guiding logic are sufficient. I was so flabbergasted that I decided to video tape what they were doing. In a few months I'll show them this video so they'll understand how dumb it was. Then the physical conditioning: in Italy we have worked at it for thirty years, but in Russia it just does not exist. This is serious because fencing is an asymmetric sport. They do/did nothing to compensate and this is how they risk injuries." IN A STRAIGHTJACKET Q: But at least they know how to fence… SC: "Yes, the fundamentals. But past them they use few patterns, always the same, repeated mechanically. This is why when they fence against Italian women or men they go crazy. In Italy there are tens of schools which are all different from one another and any national fencer knows how to change, adapt, invent. So the first thing I did was to try to introduce new things, changes. After two days the guys got it and now they ask and want to try new things. And they laugh and have fun, they opened up, they express themeselves." Q: You mean that you are "italianizing" the Russians? SC: "If you want, yes. Let say that they were, and still are, in a straightjacket. My first objective is to take it off." NOT MANY FENCERS Q: You must have an unlimited selection, a bunch of talented athletes… SC: "My initial comment, 'I thought it would be better,' was aimed especially at the numbers (of elite fencers in Russia). In the upcoming national championships in April we'll have about 60 women and 80 men. Just for comparison, in Italy at the national senior championships there are 300 men and 300 women, and there would be many more if they did not have the qualification path to compete which sets the ceiling. But at least for the time being this is how things are in Russia." Q: And yet you already have had some interesting results… SC: "Women foilists were standing there all serious, diligently following their patterns. Now they are smiling again and they win also. About men foilists people used to say that they did not want to work hard but instead they started moving forward right away. Immediately they were among the top 8 in team competitions and in Bonn last Sunday, they won, beating Italy in the semi. This had not happened in years. Giovanni Bortolaso, whom I wanted to have with me together with the physical trainer Zomparelli, was in Germany (at the competition). To do it all by myself would have been an impossible task." Q: Elisa Di Francisca, Arianna Errigo, and the rest of the Italian squad had a hard time accepting your departure and are having it hard now when they see you in the corner of their number one opponent. What about you, are you having a hard time also with this switch? SC: "Ditto for me. I accepted this big challenge to prove that I am capable to do something good outside Italy also. However, to see "my" kids at the other end of the strip is tough. They say that I know them, but they also know me. Last week in the MF team event, Aspromonte understood this immediately and told his team mates, 'Let's speed up because Stefano wants to beat us by keeping the score low.' I heard him saying that. And we lost." TRANSLATOR Q: Are you learning Russian? SC: "I'm starting, slowly. The first phrase I wanted to learn immediately is 'niet nasad' or 'don't move back.' I needed this with the girls, used as they were to those famous patterns to always escape (moving back). This is a fundamental concept that changes the way you think. Right now the language barrier is my greatest limitation. I am used to talk personally with the athletes, to communicate directly. Now I must use an interpreter. This is not good because certain things must remain private. We'll work on this." Q: Will you also learn to sing the Russian anthem during the award ceremonies? SC: "The Russian anthem? Me?? Are you kidding???!!!"