For those of you brought up in a digital world with your Googles and YouTubes, I’d guess it’s hard for you to imagine a time when finding information about fencing was near impossible. In these days of live video feeds of world cup competitions and up-to-the-minute tournament results, can you believe there was a time when fencers struggled to know the names of the top athletes in their sport? Forget about who the world cup point leader might be, “who’s the reigning world champ?” was a difficult question to answer.
I was lucky. Training under former Olympic coach Michael D’Asaro, I was fortunate to have teammates that traveled to major competitions and would come back knowing the names of the current greats. But for those of us who did not travel internationally, all we knew were a few names and reputations. TV coverage? As if. Fencing news outlets? Not much info there, either.
Thus, when Michael came home from coaching at the 1981 World University Games with videotape he had shot at the competition, it was cause for celebration. He had a screening at his house and a number of us went to watch. After the viewing, I asked Michael if I could make a copy. I was ahead of my time, in that I had two VHS decks. I could make my own dub! And I did. And I still have it. And I’m sharing it with you now!
Here’s why it’s significant: the winner of the Men’s Foil was Vladimir Smirnov. For those who don’t know him by name, I can say he was the 1980 Olympic gold medalist and World Champion in 1981. Sadly, it is for his death at the 1982 World Championships in Rome that he is most often remembered. He died after the blade of opponent Matthias Behr of Germany broke during a powerful simultaneous attack by both fencers, and the jagged end of Behr’s broken blade pierced the mesh of Smirnov’s mask and entered his brain. A horrible end for a great champion.
Instead of focusing on that tragedy here and now, let’s instead view the below footage for what it shows: a great champion at the height of his powers.
As to why I feel a tournament fought in Bucharest, Romania warrants inclusion on the West Coast Fencing Archive, it’s entirely due to the powerful impact watching this footage had on my own fencing. I was fortunate to be involved in a strong program with teammates who made National teams and won championships. But having never seen the best fencing in the world, I was still a bit in the dark. It was the same as if I was playing basketball in some remote corner of the world with no TV or Sports Illustrated and I’d never seen Michael Jordan play. How would I really know what basketball ought to look like at the highest level?
This tape gave me an all-too-brief glimpse of what it was I was striving to emulate.
Ok. Here’s the run-down of the tournament. Eight man final, direct elimination. Old school. Thus, 10 touch bouts, touches scored against the fencer (with reversed lights from today; the scoring light on your side means you were hit, not you scored), stoppage of fencing for one-meter-from-the-end-of-the-strip warning. For Part One, the bouts in the round of eight, less one bout.
Please remember when you’re watching this that it was shot on home video in 1981, dubbed to another tape (my copy), watched a billion times, and finally backed up to DVD sometime around 2004. There are glitches, wavy lines, audio drop-outs, color drop-outs, you name it. But for me, so totally worth it!
First up, Vladimir Smirnov from the Soviet Union vs Andrea Borella from Italy:
Don’t be fooled by the outcome here. Borella was 1979 Junior World Champion, twice European Champion and a three-time World Cup winner.
Next, another great Soviet fencer: Alexandr Romankov vs Pezzini (unknown first name) of France. Romankov was individual World Champion five times and runner-up twice, won individual silver and two bronze medals at three Olympic games, and was twice the World Cup winner. So, he could fence a little bit.
The last bout to show you in the eight (as Michael didn’t record the final bout!) has Angelo Scuri of Italy vs Petru Kuki of Romania. Kuki was the hometown favorite, with the event being held in Bucharest. He was also a two-time Junior World Champion and had taken second at the World Championships to Smirnov earlier in 1981. Scuri had taken third at that same World Championships.
The final bout in the round of eight included Federico Cervi from Italy, but I don’t know who his opponent was. Cervi was the victor over Mr. Unknown, and we’ll pick up his bout with Smirnov in Part Two on Thursday!