After last year’s disappointing performance at the London Olympics, Russia’s fencing team has faced a lot of criticism.
The head coach of Russian fencing Vladislav Pavlovich had to step down immediately after the country won just three medals, half of their pre-Olympic aim.
Russia's team leader in the sabre event, Veniamin Reshetnikov, was one of the main medal hopefuls but a surprisingly poor performance saw him exit the competition soon after the Games began.
However at the World Fencing Championships which finished last month in Budapest, Hungary, Team Russia stunned its critics by winning a record number of medals: three gold, five silver and three bronze, taking first place in the final medal count.
In the all-Russian individual sabre final Veniamin Reshetnikov showed no fear against compatriot Nikolai Kovalyov and marked the gold at the World Championships.
Al Jazeera spoke to current fencing world champion Reshetnikov in his native Novosibirsk, Siberia, where he is currently recovering from the tough season.
Veniamin, congratulations with the gold medal. Which round was the toughest for you?
The very first fight was a total disaster. I couldn’t control my emotions and nearly lost to French fencer Nicolas Rousset. When the score is 14:14 it’s hard to control yourself. Luckily, I managed to overcome my emotions and win.
In the final match you faced your team mate Nikolai Kovalyov. Did you think you would win?
I knew it would be a very difficult match for me. Nikolai and I are good friends. We have being practising together for many years, so he knows all my tricks and I know his. This time the result depended on who is more cheeky, who can outwit the other first. I was trying to concentrate on the final result and not to think that I am fighting for the title against my best friend.
The Russian fencing team gave an amazing performance at the World Championships in Budapest. How do you explain the disappointing results at the London Olympics?
I don’t want to offend anybody but when Russia signed Christian Bauer as the General Manager of the National team my professional life changed. No doubt, he is one of the best professionals in the world although his methods are not quite working for me.
Two years before the Games he locked us in the Moscow base, leaving 300 days per year for practice. I am a
I remember going to the Olympics and wishing for everything to be over as soon as possible.
kind of person who quickly becomes homesick. So after a while I felt heavy-laden and very tired. I remember going to the Olympics and wishing for everything to be over as soon as possible. At the Olympics we were kept under a rigid regime. We were told what to eat, what to drink and what to do.
It’s hard to accept with the Russian mentality.
The Russian fencing team medal plan, which was released before the Olympics, anticipated six medals. Do you think the aim was realistic?
These plans were based on the specific conclusions: Russia’s Fencing Federation had hired the best fencing expert in the world for us, we had previously won the World Championships. We hoped to earn medals in the team competitions, women’s sabre and individual events. Sadly, not everything worked out.
What has changed for you after the London Olympics?
After the Games I decided to return to my coach Boris Pisetsky in Novosibirsk.
He is the best coach for me as well as a great person. It was also important to hear words of support from the legendary Olympic Champion Stanislav Pozdnyakov, who has also achieved a lot with Pisetsky. I am happy that the Russian Fencing Federation has supported my decision and Boris Pisetsky has agreed to help me.
Now I am training separately from the national team in Siberia. I’ve found the way in which I feel most comfortable and which, most importantly, gives results.
How is your training process different from the main team?
There is not much difference apart from the fact that I am training closer to home. I am not completely abandoning the national team’s practices. It is important for me to train with the team before the international competitions. Practising with the best fencers in the country keeps my skills sharp and ready for the strongest contenders in the world.
What is your next goal?
I want to give the best performance I can at the next Olympic Games. I will be following my individual training plan and hopefully the work will pay off at the Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Anna Lidster is a freelance sports journalist who has written for the Siberian Times, Daily Mail and BBC World Service. You can follow her on twitter @AShlyakhtenko