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Art of Fencing, Art of Life

An Interview with Russian Foil Champion Inna Deriglazova

Gold medalist Inna Deriglazova of Russia celebrates on the podium after defeating Pauline Ranvier of France in the women's individual foil final of the FIE World Fencing Championships in Budapest, Hungary, 19 July 2019.  EPA-EFE/Tibor Illyes HUNGARY

Foil fencer Inna Deriglazova has proven to be a powerful force in the fencing world, challenging the best female foilists at the highest levels of competition over the course of many years. A recent interview with her by TASS correspondent Veronika Sovetova, following Deriglazova’s phenomenal performance at recent 2019 Fencing World Championship in Budapest, caught our imagination and we had to share it! The piece is extraordinary, as is the fencer herself, and it shows that such stars and idols of modern fencing have the same struggles as we do in their sport lives, similar fears and concerns, and what it takes to overcome them and come on top.

We wanted to share it with our English speaking readers! Just because you can’t read the original Russian, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to be inspired by it! Here is our translation of the interview with her published on the Russian Fencing Federation website. I hope that you find Inna Deriglazova as much of a fascinating fencer and powerhouse athlete as we do. 

You’ll find the original piece at this link

Foilist Inna Deriglazova cried under her mask, but listened to her coach.

July 25, 2019

The Women’s Foil Olympic champion in Rio de Janeiro, Inna Deriglazova, recently became the shining star of the World Fencing Championship in Budapest. She won two gold medals at once – both in the individual and the team tournament. In an interview with TASS, the athlete shared with us what her life has been like after the Olympics, how her daughter has shaped her life, how her coach brought her up to have a will of iron, and about the fears that she battled ahead of the World Championships. 

Veronica Sovetva: Inna, after winning the individual tournament in the World Championship, you said that you had been waiting for this championship for a year. How much did last year’s loss at the 2018 Fencing World Championships in China affect you?

Inna Deriglazova: The defeat in Wuxi was a tragedy for me. I’m not afraid to use that word. Nothing of what I had been striving for, nothing of what I had worked so hard for, none of it worked out. Not in the personal or in the team competition. So it was necessary for me to start the new year from scratch. I had to drop everything, to forget everything, and to work.

I was worried about it for a long time. I wrestled with myself – why did it turn out this way and not how I’d wanted it to? I tried to train more, but I was afraid. What if it didn’t work out again? I was able to perform well during the last season, quite successfully, as I had in the past year, but what if I would fail at the main competition of the year, like the last time? I was most afraid of that. 

For two days leading in I began to worry and became very nervous. I already knew the tableau of direct eliminations, I knew what would happen and how it would be because I’d done it all before and was really nervous. But then I was able to overcome myself. I succeeded to not hold back, to contain my nerves,not to hurry through and control my every movement. I’m happy that it all worked out the way that it did. 

VS: After your victory in the individual tournament in Budapest, did you have a sense of completing the task?

ID: Of course not! I came to vie for two competitions – the individual and the team. Of course there were congratulations and good words, I was glad. However, the next day I forgot all of this. There was a serious work ahead for the team. 

VS: Now you face the most serious work, this year towards the Olympics in Tokyo.

ID: Right, but now we are the World Champions [my note – this means way ahead of other teams in Olympic qualification] .

VS: And you have two titles in this Championship – both individual and team World Champions. 

ID: For the first time I won both titles in the same championship, and it is really a triumph. I realize that. I guess you can say that I really done well. It means that we were preparing correctly and that we will try to go into the Olympic Games with that same kind of mindset.

But the Olympics are different from all other types of competition. Anything can happen there, and more than once there was that a much stronger opponent lost to an objectively weaker fencer. That is why  as a team we are rejoicing in these medals now for a short time. And then – our sights are set on Tokyo though.

VS: Three years have passed since your victory at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Now, after so much time, what is the main lesson you took away from the Games?

ID: That I made many mistakes, but I won anyway. That final bout with the Italian Elisa di Francisca was a constant swing in one way or another. I will say this, the courage is what it takes. You need to be confident in what you are doing. Everyone wants to win, and your opponent is worried just like you are worried. In the confrontation between the two of you, courage is what will win. 

VS: Has life changed after the Olympics?

ID: The attitude of people has changed, they now see you as an Olympic Champion. I am from the small town of Kurchatov, near Kursk, where I am now a significant and recognizable person. People understand that an Olympic medal is not easy to win. There are these years and years of hard training, half of your life that is put into a sport. It’s a dream to get there. 

We don’t have soccer or huge tennis stars, so for an Olympic champion people recognize me, they want to take a picture and get an autograph. But it isn’t me to build a star out of myself. You see, I am a simple person. It is not in my character to be a celebrity, it’s just not who I am. When they tell me that I’m a star, it’s nice. I myself won’t say that though. 

VS: After Rio, was there any temptation to say “I’m a great fencer, I’ve proven it all the way to the Olympics, and that’s enough.”?

ID: No, such a thought never even crossed my mind! I don’t think that, even after having become an Olympic champion, that I have reached the limit of what I can do. There are five-time Olympic champions. Italian Valentina Vezzali has done more. (TASS comment – Vezzali is a six-time Olympic champion and sixteen-time World champion.) These are much higher achievements that I can strive for. Especially as I don’t plan to retire. If I continue to constantly think about my Olympic gold medal, then my newest win would not have happened. 

VS: With all of this, you’re also a mom.

ID: This is the toughest subject for me. My daughter is ten years old, and I always want to spend more time with her. But then there is all of this time away, at training camp and then at competition, and after it’s over I rush home. My family has always understood though, this is my job. 

A child of any age wants to be with their mother and I always want to be with my daughter. I am responsible for her. I am the mountain that she can lean on. I worry about her. Often I am asked, where do you get so much motivation? It’s because of her. Since I have to endure being away from her for so often and for so long, what right do I have to lose? Once I gave myself completely to the sport, once I decided to go for it, I have to win. I see it that I either have to get the result that I am striving for, or go home and be with my family. 

VS: Is she also involved in sports?

ID: She has started to practice fencing. In general though she is very artistic. She does dance, she even dances in front of the mirror at home. I want her to be involved in sports, but if she finds something that she loves more then I will let her make the choice herself. I won’t insist that she be like me. I know many examples of children whose parents are coaches, and they forced their kids to play sports. The kids go to the gym reluctantly and are weighed down with negative emotions. Where does their motivation to reach any result could come from?

VS: For many people who are at least a little familiar with fencing, your name always goes next to the name of your coach Ildar Mavlyutov. You have spent so many years together, but do you remember your first meeting?

ID: Of course I do. When I was a little girl, Lydia Safiullina worked with me for four years. She was my first coach. Then she went out on maternity leave, and Elena Kozhikina began giving me individual lessons. It was then that I had my first good result as a youth fencer. It was not so easy to get the attention of Mavlyutov, but he immediately noticed me after that.

I was very skinny, but I was also stubborn. My trainer would tell me to do fifty times push ups and I would do  sixty. They would tell me to go hit a target a hundred times, and I would hit it a hundred and twenty. I have always done more than I was told. The coaches ingrained into my mind “If you want to be better than others, do more than others.” That’s been in my head since those first days fencing and it has never left. 

For me, it was an honor to train under him, although he was very tough. He could talk very tough. Because of our age and inexperience, we were afraid to say anything to him.  Sometimes we even practiced through the pain, wept under the mask, but he demanded that we keep going. He demanded fairly.

VS: Is it still that way now?

ID: Of course now he listens to my opinion and our work is an ongoing dialogue. But he is still demanding and very disciplined. Even here in Budapest, after my victory in the individual World Championship, he told me that I only used twenty percent of my fencing in the final and that I could do better. It does hurt somewhat, how can that be, I think? Shouldn’t I have been praised? Or after winning the Olympics when he said “the bout was good, but in the end …” and so on. He motivates me to continue working so that I do not stop at what has been achieved, so that I can improve.

I am very grateful to him. Our relationship has lasted for a very long time. He turned me from a little girl into a person with an iron will. 

VS: At the last World Championships in Wuxi, you fenced without him.

ID: There, and at the European Championship that came before them. In Europe, I won and the team placed second. Then at the World Championships, I didn’t make it to the top four and ended up in fifth place in the individual competition. It was a tragedy for me. In the quarter-finals  I lost one touch to a French fencer Ysaora Thibus. I led with a big score, but then I broke down in the end and couldn’t keep it up. It was so disappointing for me, and two days later I really wanted to turn it all around in the team tournament. In the end everything went even worse when the team lost to South Korea. I love fencing when there is a lot of creation in a match from both opponents. But these korean fencers had chosen a tactic of not creating anything themselves but working on destroying your fencing and waiting for your mistakes..

VS: In Wuxi, did you miss your coach, who at that time was experiencing health problems?

ID: I took his situation very personally. I was very worried about him. When you work with your coach for so many years, you start to need him. This is a person who, more than anyone else, knows what and how to tell you, what you need at the moment that you need it. He taught me, he raised me in fencing. He knows my fencing. It’s a  very close relationship.

More than once, I caught myself thinking about how when he and I argue, the results deteriorate. He and I are very close, we work well together. He has a complex personality and so do I. Sometimes we disagree. Sometimes I don’t accept what he thinks when I really should, and sometimes I believe he goes too far but he doesn’t see it that way.. This is work, it’s hard work. 

VS: It was always fascinating to me to figure out whether fencing skills are applicable to everyday woman’s life? Relatively speaking – will you chop vegetables for a salad faster than ordinary people?

ID: It’s definitely not that way with vegetables. But I will say this – the fencer thinks faster than an ordinary person. Take, for example,driving. Behind the wheel, you sit and see everything around you, like predicting. This car will now go there, that one in the other direction. And everything is really happening like you thought it would, in that moment. Often, when I go to a taxi to get somewhere, inside my head I am thinking of the driver “What the heck are you doing?!”

Girls who play sports are stronger, more persistent, more stubborn, and more tenacious in life. Sport has taught us these things. I might not always be right when I use these qualities in my life. Sometimes it helps, and sometimes it interferes. Especially if you are too stubborn in your relationships. 

VS: Fencing, does it hurt?

ID: It hurts when you lose. In my heart it hurts that I did not succeed. Physical pain is nothing. In any sport you feel some pain.

VS: Even in chess?

ID: In chess I think the brain is boiling 🙂

VS: And yours is not boiling?

ID: Of course it is boiling too!!  And of course bruises in fencing is a common thing. Now in the summer it can be especially uncomfortable.  I want to wear shorts, but my legs are black and blue. A regular person would probably think this girl has a very serious problem :-).

Interview by Veronika Sovetova of TASS.

Thank you for reading this interview translation! We hope that you got as much out of the insight into Inna Deriglazova as we did. Understanding the tenacity and iron will of a world champion fencer is important for all of us.

[Photo credit: EPA-EFE/Tibor Illyes HUNGARY ]

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1 Comment

  1. Orly Guerrero

    Everything Inna said is so true. I have worked together with Russian coaches in my country (Philippines) and they are very different from the Chinese coaches we had later. Most of the Chinese coaches were also just as good but the Russian coaches were more domineering. The Russian coaches would not let the national association operate wrongly otherwise they would raise hell. The Chinese coaches we had were more submissive and would only complain privately if the association messed things up. It is very difficult to train a champion unless there is a dialogue between fencer and coach. Still it takes a very special fencer to be a champion. Not all have the physical requirements or the brain to be a champion. Even when trained by the best coach in the world many may never succeed. Luckily Inna had the physical attribites, the strength of will, determination and the lack of fear and a coach who was able to bring all these into fruition.

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