Look out, St. Louis – or, en garde, rather: Some of the nation’s top fencers are about to invade this baseball town. The 2018 National Championships begin Thursday at the America’s Center Convention Complex downtown.
“It’s around 5,000 fencers [total] that will be coming,” Hossam Hassan, head coach at the local Fencers Academy club, said Wednesday on St. Louis on the Air. “It’s 10 days with several events per day, and each event has around 150 to 200 or 300 participants from the United States and outside [the country].”
Host Don Marsh talked with Hassan and two of his students – St. Louis teenagers Daena Talavera and Bogdan Hamilton – about their love for the sport and their hopes for the major competition as it gets underway in their home city.
The conversation offered listeners unfamiliar with the sport an introduction to its unique characteristics. Hassan, who competed internationally and coached Egypt’s national team for many years before moving to St. Louis in 2005, noted that fencing isn’t simply “sword fighting” as it’s popularly conceived.
“We are using modern equipment [and] we teach the kids, the students, how to use these swords to touch your opponent instead of killing, like before,” Hassan said.
There are also three kinds of competitive fencing, each named for its particular weapon: foil, epee and saber. Talavera, 13, and Hamilton, 14, both focus on foil, where points are scored only for hits on an opponent’s torso.
“I find [foil] the most challenging, since you have a limited amount of target area,” Talavera, a two-time national champion, explained. “You have to be very precise in foil.”
Hamilton, a national medalist who has trained and traveled alongside Talavera for years, said that fencing is often described as “physical chess.”
“The chess part is because you have to think about it – you have to think about if you want to go back or forward or attack or be more passive,” Hamilton said. “And then the physical part is enacting that. So actually have the speed or the quickness to go back and hitting your opponent before they can react.”
Both he and Talavera train at the Fencers Academy four to five days a week for several hours at a time. They also put in a lot of time pursuing other forms of physical activity.
“Just fencing won’t keep you the way you want to be to be good at fencing,” Hamilton said. “So you might want to do swimming, which is good for everything, or squash, which is good for your wrists and being quick.”
Hassan praised both students as determined, hardworking athletes and emphasized that fencing requires a lot more physical fitness than meets the eye.
“It can seem, when they are moving on the strip, [that] they are not moving so much,” the coach said. “But actually the positions they are doing – like en garde … advancing … the lunge – especially [require] aerobic endurance. It is really tiring and a good workout.”
He hopes to continue to grow the sport of fencing in the St. Louis region, and the events taking place downtown include opportunities for the uninitiated to learn more about it.
“We’ll have some fencing demos in Kiener Plaza [on July 3],” Hassan said, adding that the competitions taking place in the convention center are free to spectators.
What: 2018 National Championships and July Challenge
When: June 28 through July 7
Where: America Center Convention Complex
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Caitlin Lally give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.