WASHINGTON, April 23, 2013 — In the first part of our interview with world champion Ari Simmons, we talked about his club, his coaches and his success at the recent world championships. In part two, I speak with Ari about his long term goals, how he got into fencing, and how he intends to stay on top and not let his success get to his head.
DL: So you have a world championship under your belt now. What are your immediate goals and long-term goals, and will we see Ari Simmons competing in the Veterans 70 division?
AS: It’s a little early to think about the Veterans 70 division, but I hope to be fencing that long. My immediate goal is to refocus and start reviewing what was done correctly and incorrectly this season and to start working on next season. My goal for this upcoming season is to make the Junior World team and hopefully produce another great result at the World Championships. A long- term goal would be Senior World team and the Olympics.
Ever since I started fencing, it has been a dream of mine, and attending these World Championships was just the first step in achieving that goal. I feel that most upper level fencers should aim that high, though.
DL: Share with us your memory of the first time you picked up a weapon. What got you into fencing?
AS: I remember feeling closed in by my mask and that I could not see outside of the mask too well. The next thing that I noticed was that breathing was slightly different inside the mask. I saw all the cool things the advanced fencers were doing and wanted to do that, though, so the weird feeling of the mask didn’t stop me.
What got me into fencing? This is my favorite question to answer. Anton Piskovatskov, the best cadet in America and my best friend, and I have been best friends since we were four.
At the age of eight, he started fencing. When I was 10, I needed a new sport to try out and thought that I could spend more time with him if I started fencing and that the sport looked cool to try out. So I tried a beginner’s camp in the summer of 2007 and loved the sport. I have been fencing at Alliance Fencing Academy ever since.
DL: Who are the fencers you most admire and look up to?
AS: Like most epeeists, I idolize Kolobkov and how he changed the game. Aside from him, I most admire and look up to two fencers: Anton Piskovatskov and Yuval Freilich. Anton Piskovatskov is a 1996 USA Cadet/Junior fencer who in skill and results surpasses all other fencers in his year or younger. His work ethic and humility are something I will always respect and look up to. He is also a great friend and person, and a pleasure to be around. When given the chance, though, I would try to find him fencing at a NAC. You won’t regret it.
The other fencer is Yuval Freilich, my predecessor as Cadet World Champion. His first medal at World Championships came when he was young enough to be competing at Y14 competitions in America. Since then he has dominated both the Cadet and Junior levels of fencing. He is truly a pleasure to watch because he just seems to know the right things and what to do on strip.
DL: What advice can you give to young fencers to stay motivated and have fun throughout their fencing careers?
AS: A large piece of advice that I must give to young fencers is to not let anybody take the fun out of fencing. You must train hard and motivate yourself to work harder and do better, but you cannot go overboard on it.
Just look for something that works and stick with it. If you have a friend who fences, you should use each other to push one another further and to do better. Also, at tournaments, once you lose, don’t leave right away. Stay until the end and watch the person you lost to along with the others who stayed in.
Look at what they do and study the sport. I feel that this is one of the things that helped me because I got to see what all the higher-level fencers did and I got to know who was good and at the top.
DL: How would you describe your fencing to someone who has never seen you fence? What are your greatest strengths as a fencer and what areas do you need to work on the most?
AS: If I had to describe my fencing to somebody who has never seen it, I would say that I keep the bout moving at a fast pace. I’m relatively aggressive and use my footwork as a way to create many touches. I feel that I need to work on my foot touch more than anything, because, especially at Alliance where most of the kids have very strong and effective foot touches, I have a relatively weak foot touch. I also feel that my defense is stronger than other aspects of my fencing.
DL: When you’re a Junior Olympic/World Champion, the stakes get higher, the pressure rises, and you get a bigger target painted on your back. How do you plan to deal with that in the upcoming competitive season?
AS: I plan on fencing as hard as I fenced at the end of this season, and not letting the target get into my head. As soon as the pressure gets into your head, you’re done. You have to be able to take advantage of it [pressure] and use things like that for your benefit. I have to fence everybody else as hard as they will be fencing me. That is the only way to deal with it.
DL: You’re going to be a junior next year. It’s early, but do you have any ideas on where you’re looking to go to college?
AS: Like most upper level fencers, I am aiming for a good school with a strong fencing program. At this moment, my top three would probably be Princeton, Stanford, and UPenn (in no particular order). Towards this time next year, I should have a more clear answer for you.
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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