WASHINGTON, February 28, 2013 — Prior to the 2000’s, foil fencer Sergei Golubitsky had arguably cemented himself as the greatest foil fencer of all time, winning three world championships in a storied career. At the turn of the millennium, a young German fencer by the name of Peter Joppich entered the international fencing scene and forever changed the game of foil, making the act of winning a habit.
Joppich has won five world championship gold medals (four individual and one team) and an Olympic team bronze in the London 2012 Olympics. He has won a total of 13 world medals — and he just turned 30 years old. What’s most impressive about Joppich’s many world championships is that they came during both eras of foil fencing.
Prior to 2005, foil was centered on an action known as the “flick,” which as the name implies was a quick snap of the blade that exerted enough force to bend the weapon at extreme angles and land lightly on the opponent’s target area. In 2005, the timing of foil was altered, making flicking significantly more difficult (but still a part of the game). Many fencers struggled to adjust to the timing, but Joppich managed to win two titles before the timing change — and three after.
Speaking with Joppich, I found that he never seemed to claim any credit for any of his personal successes without graciously thanking his teammates, his coach and even his physical therapist. His humility has allowed him to remain driven to win, and as you will read, victory for Peter Joppich is only temporary.
Like Alabama football coach Nick Saban, Joppich only briefly revels in victory before returning to the drawing board and resetting his goals so that winning can continue habitually. I sat down with Peter Joppich to discuss memories of his fencing career, his training regimen and his relationship with his coach.
Damien Lehfeldt: I understand you began fencing when you were about five years old. Tell us about your memory of the first time you picked up a weapon.
Peter Joppich: Yes, I started fencing when I was 5 years old. I live in a region with a lot of castles. So I knew a lot about knights and musketeers. In 1988, I watched the Olympics and especially the fencing competitions, where the German fencer Anja Fichtel won the gold medal. I saw the competition at five o’clock in the morning and got so excited that after seeing that, I woke up my parents told them I wanted to start fencing.
And so I started. I remember my first practice weapon when I began fencing. I used a short plastic kid’s foil (at this age the kids get shorter and lighter weapons) with a neon yellow blade. With this weapon I did my first hits on training pillows which hung on the wall in my club.
DL: Of the utmost importance in fencing is the relationship between a fencer and his/her coach. Describe your relationship with Coach Uli Schreck and how he has contributed to your many successes in fencing.
PJ: Uli Schreck is the most important person in my fencing career. We know each other and have worked together for more than 17 years. He discovered my fencing talent very early, taught me a lot about fencing and supported me all my way until today. The way he prepares me for big events is first rate, both in my fencing shape and mental shape. I’m very thankful for having him as my coach. We also have a good relationship outside the sport and respect each other.
DL: Since you began fencing, the timing on the foil machines has changed, and the bib is now valid target. How do you feel about the changes to the rules and do you agree with them?
PJ: Yes, that’s right, the timing changed in 2005. My fencing style was adapted to the former timing with a lot of flicks. After the change, I had to alter my fencing style and the 2005/2006 season was very difficult for me with not so good results. It took some time, but with Uli Schreck’s help I changed my style and won the World Championship in 2006. I’m very glad that I won world championship titles in both eras of fencing history.
DL: What kind of mental preparation do you undergo leading up to major competitions?
PJ: I have to say that the mental strength is something that characterizes me. I won a lot of fights on the last touch. I even won two World Championship finals that way. I never get nervous and I’m very focused at the final moment and highly concentrated.
In the beginning of my career it was easier than today. In the beginning there wasn’t so much pressure. But with winning my first World Championship titles the pressure and the expectations grew. And if you are getting older, you start to think more about it.
I have a good team of fencers behind me at home – a very good coach – a very good physical therapist. All of them give me open ears and their undivided attention. They all help me to put the pressure away, and I’m thankful to have them supporting me.
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 is an A-rated epeeist and was a member of the 2012 North American Cup Gold Medal Men’s Epee Team.
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