The U.S. Fencing Team recently defeated the heavily favored French National Team at the World Championships. The win was the first for the U.S team ever and the French team have won this competition every year since 2003. The U.S. team beat the teams from Kazakhstan, Switzerland, and Hungary before defeating the French team in Kiev in April.
Unfortunately, the International Olympic Committee removes one event from the games each Olympiad and this time Épée fencers will not compete as teams, only as individuals, so this team will not all get to go the Games in London. Ben Bratton, the youngest and latest member to join the team, as we discussed last week, will not get to compete in this Olympiad.
I talked to Soren about competition, the World Championships, and how they feel about their whole team not getting to go to London together.
What is it like to have to compete at such a high level in an unfamiliar environment?
There are many challenges to competing around the world. Sometimes we compete in standing venues for the World Cup and those are familiar places. Other times we have to adjust to entirely new environments. Transportation to and from the competition and getting food can be especially hard. We also often have to compete while suffering from jet lag. These are just parts of the sport and experience helps us deal with difficult situations.
Is it important to all be in the same frame of mind going into a match?
Fencing is a highly individual sport—there is only ever one of our team against one of the other team. We have to take responsibility for ourselves and for our own preparation. What we expect from each other is respect for our preparation, a high level of commitment and professionalism. We prepare together by discussing our strategies for each upcoming match and reconvening after a match to discuss what just happened. Win or lose, we always have this closing discussion in order to “put away” the last match so that we can prepare for the next one.
You had to know you were underdogs going into the World Championships. How did that affect your strategies?
Actually, we were the favorites to win the first two bouts, but we don’t consider the rankings going into a match. We consider only who is on our team and who is on the opposing team. We think about how to maximize our strengths and how to minimize those of our opponents, individually and collectively. This approach never changes, no matter the opponents or their ranking.
What is the biggest difference between your team and the French team?
The French training system is the best in the world. The team lives and trains together all the time and has a great deal of funding as well as a dedicated, state-of-the-art facility. Our team is spread out across the U.S. and has to get into a team mindset specifically for each match and our system relies on personal commitment and investment. We are capable of competing with anyone in the world on any given day, but their level of funding and professionalism helps them perform well over an entire season.
To what do you attribute your win most?
Our experience, our preparation, and our trust in each other.
How will your World Championship affect the Olympics?
I don’t think it will impact the Olympics very much. We will only have individual competition and in a sense the World Championship was our Olympic Team event. Individual preparation and focus will take precedence of anything that happened in those team matches.
I love Soren’s answer to the penultimate question: experience, preparation, and trust are essential to success on any team, in sport, in business, in design, in a family.
If you missed Part 1, you can learn more about how this team came together to win as a team in an individual sport.
In part 3, we will talk to Soren about his plans for the Olympics and the future.
Wendy Stackhouse, for Artisan Creative