WASHINGTON, April 22, 2013 — In any world championship event, the victor seldom wins in a dominant fashion. Close, dramatic matches that come down to the wire are commonplace, even decided in sudden death overtime. In the recent Cadet World Championships in Poreč, Croatia, Alliance Fencing’s (Houston, Texas) Ari Simmons brought home America’s first Cadet Men’s Epee world title since 2007 with little such drama.
After losing one close match 5-4 in preliminaries, Ari became an unstoppable force that met no immovable objects. After a bye as the #22 seed, Ari coasted, winning 15-5 over Denmark’s Hanibal Al Awssi, followed by a 15-7 over Italy’s Federico Vismara.
To ascend to the quarterfinal, Ari had to face the higher seed in Egypt’s Daveed Abdelmalak, whom he squeezed a 15-14 victory from in what would be his closest match of the day. After his defeat of Abdelmalak, Ari squared off against another high seed, Egypt’s Adel Abdelrahman, whom he swiftly destroyed 15-7.
Semi-finals often serve as a buildup to the tournament’s denouement, but in Ari’s case, it was a 15-5 subjugation over Venezuela’s Jesus Limardo (the younger brother of 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist Ruben Limardo-Gascon) to reach the final.
Finally, Ari capped off his world championship win with a 15-13 win over Andris Jahimovics of Latvia.
A world championship in fencing at any level is a monumental task for the United States, yet Ari remains humble, levelheaded and focused on continuing to elevate his performance.
In our interview, Ari would not accept any credit for his accomplishment without graciously thanking his coaches, his teammates, the champions who preceded him, and his best friend Anton Piskovatskov, whom he called “the best cadet fencer in America.” (Hey, Ari, you just won world championships. Pretty sure that you get to claim that title.) I am pleased to share this interview with Ari Simmons, whom you will find is far more mature, driven and humble than most teenagers his age.
Damien Lehfeldt: Ok, let’s start off with the big question: you just became the first Cadet Men’s Epee World Champion from the US since Graham Wicas in 2007. How do you feel?
Ari Simmons: I feel honored to be in the books with people like Graham Wicas, Nikita Glazkov, Niklaus Bodoczi, Lorenzo Buzzi, Yuval Freilich, and all the other great fencers who had won the event before me.
It is an even greater honor to be one of the only Men’s epeeists from America to ever win this event. I am ecstatic, but as soon as I came back from Croatia, I returned to the drawing board to create a plan for next year. I want to represent myself, my club, and America like this again and will train even harder to replicate this result next year.
DL: At Worlds, you had one 15-13 win, another 15-14 win. The rest of your matches, you didn’t allow an opponent to get more than seven touches on you. What kinds of things did you do mentally to get into such a dominant zone?
AS: From the beginning I knew that the pressure and intensity of this tournament would be larger than any other that I have ever been to. Knowing this, my coaches helped me develop a confident mindset that would help me be less affected by the given situation.
On the second day, it took me a few touches to get going, because it’s a completely different experience fencing on the second day. The fencing is wireless, there are big screens, bleachers and stands full of people; everything just seems so official that for a moment you forget to think about the fencing. After the first few touches, though, I refocused and just tried to fence the types of bouts I usually would.
DL: Obviously, Andrey Geva and Sergey Danilov are doing amazing things at Alliance. What do you think they have done to create such a successful program?
AS: Andrey and Sergey are both great coaches. Andrey started building the program back in 2004, and he just always seems to know what to do with students and what they can do to become better fencers. Sergey came in the summer 2010 and has been a great addition to the Alliance family. He and Andrey both collaborated to create the fencers that Alliance has today.
In the winter of 2010 Benoit Bouysset came and also helped contribute to the coaching. His creative mindset created a new arsenal of strategies for the fencers. All of the coaches emphasize that hard work is the main way to achieve a higher level of fencing and help create personal plans for each fencer that will better their individual abilities.
Along with the great coaching, the less experienced and/or younger fencers at the club have a great opportunity to fence against higher rated and more experienced fencers. I feel that this availability to train against better fencers improves their performance as well. The other thing that I will credit the great coaches of Alliance with is that they create a family-like environment where all the students want to better each other and enjoy seeing success in others, as well as themselves.
DL: Speaking of Alliance, it seems like you guys have a very team-oriented culture over there, which is rare for an individual sport like fencing. Talk to us a little about that.
AS: Ever since I started fencing, I remember the club being like a second home to me. It is also a second home to everyone else that attends on the same daily basis that I do. The coaches help us realize that if the club is our second home, our teammates are like our family. We all love being a part of Alliance and enjoy each other’s presence.
It adds on to the fun of fencing because we come to a place where we know everyone is welcome and just enjoy training. Also at tournaments we always have team dinners so that everyone can get to know each other better and to bring the club closer together. The team-oriented culture we have really works in building a love for the sport.
Damien is a competitive fencer and volunteer assistant coach at DC Fencers Club in Silver Spring, Md. Damien was the coach of a London 2012 Olympic Athlete in Modern Pentathlon. He was a member of the 2012 North American Cup Gold Medal Men’s Epee Team. He is a qualifier for the 2013 Maccabi Games.
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