All eyes were on Rio this summer as the USFA was busy with promoting fencing in different places around the country in support of our accomplished athletes in the Summer Olympics. That’s rightfully so – the momentum and the press has never been better for fencing.
But there was actually something else big going on in fencing this summer – the Pan American Youth and Veteran Championship in Puerto Rico!
The Pan American Youth and Veteran Championship this year was held in Ponce, Puerto Rico on August 22-26, 2016. Last year the Championship was held in Lima, Peru, and the next year it supposed to be at the Virgin Islands.
Our Amazing Pan American Games Experience
This was my first time at Pan American Youth and Veteran Championship, both as a dad and a coach. And I loved every aspect of it!
We had 4 fencers who were selected to represent Team USA in this tournament:
- Alan Buchwald, our veteran foil fencer in men’s V60 foil category
- Andrea Leang for Youth B women’s epee
- Leehi Machulsky for Youth A women’s epee
- Adam Chirashnya (my son), for Youth A men’s foil. (Youth A is 2006 and Youth B is 2002 and younger).
It was a very long (and quite expensive!) trip, but it was worth it. Big time.
Why was it worth it? Not only because our team rocked, though that’s definitely part of it and they did! Let’s do jump into the wonderful results that we saw.
- Three individual medals
- Andrea Leang – silver
- Leehi Machulsky – silver
- Adam Chirashnya – gold
- One team medal
- Alan Buchwald – silver in Team Interclub Championship.
More than the medals, this was worth it because for the first time of their lives these kids felt what it means to compete for their country.
Talk to any youth fencer today after the incredible experience of the Olympics and almost every person will tell they want to become Olympians. Well, the road to the Olympics is not an easy one, and definitely not everyone will have an opportunity to represent their country in an international competition.
For youth fencers that are very young, the reality is that there are just very few opportunities to experience what it means to represent your country. Most of the international competitions start in Cadet age with the World Cups. The Pan American Youth Championship are among the rare events for them to feel this.
How International Competition is Different
International competition is so fundamentally different than what our fencers experience closer to home.
The USA Team
Those red club jackets that instill such pride in our fencers were thrown to the wayside for the Pan American Youth and Veteran World Championship. Instead, they all donned Team USA uniforms and became integrated with other members of the US Team. They found themselves representing not just their club, not just their sport, but an entire country – 300 million people counting on them to do their best. That’s a pretty incredible thing for a young person to experience!
It is so great opportunity for young people to have such an honor to represent their country, to win the championship for it and make a nation’s flag raise and anthem played. The feeling of pride and patriotism is unparalleled and inspiring and I am really happy that our fencers were selected to represent Team USA.
The International Flavor
Meeting people from other countries in this kind of environment is different even than the wonderfully rich international community we have at home. There’s a level of sportsmanship that our fencers rose to that was so amazing. They didn’t speak the language as most of Pan Am countries are Spanish speaking and most of the youth US team did not speak Spanish, yet they were able to communicate wonderfully – exactly like what you would expect from children. Sport has no boundaries.
Our fencers competed against those from Colombia, Chile, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and so many more! It truly was a melting pot of cultures from all over North and South America. What’s more is that after the match they made good friends with rival teams and had a lot of fun together.
Fencing in the finals, when (from the child’s perspective) the whole world watching you is very pressing and intense. Many of the bouts that our fencers participated in were live streamed and due to the level of the bout the referees also used video replay for calls accuracy and fencers were allowed to video appeal in case of presumably wrong director’s call. Just like in the Olympics! And it is even more intense when you face a contender on his home turf and the whole venue is cheering for him.
Conduct in this high pressure and challenging environment is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. We got fantastic feedback on the behavior and conduct of our fencers from veteran USA team members and from other parents. It’s no small thing to keep it together under this kind of pressure. Our fencers waited patiently as the delays mounted during the competition, something that even veteran fencers struggled to do! The accepted defeat with dignity and victory with humility.
Part of the flavor of international competition is that you do see a wide variety of cultures and reactions to events that unfold during competition. The really hard part is to hold yourself firm to strong conduct that’s true to your sportsmanship in this setting. Upholding the dignity of your nation means being prompt to the strip, observing all of the rules, avoiding letting the excitement and emotion run away with you, and overall competing with the highest level of decorum and professionalism possible. The world is watching! The incredibly high level of behavior and conduct that we saw from our fencers at the Pan American Youth and Veteran Championships is only developed through great parenting and solid coaching over years of practice – and people noticed!
Thanks so much to Jude Offerle, a fellow veteran fencer in this championship and a well- known fencing referee for her incredible feedback for our fencers on their conduct in this competition. She said, in part, “I want to congratulate our youth fencers not only on their excellent results, but particularly on their conduct on and off the strip.” We count that among the highest praise we could possibly get! Thank you!
Our fencers really just blew us away with their great fencing! The US Team clearly dominated the championship in almost every category. And while not every event was finished with the gold medal by US fencer, in every event it was really shown the high class of American fencing.
These boys and girls and the state of American fencing exemplifies what a fantastic cadre we have and why American fencing is becoming such a great power on the international scene. With results like these, there is a great future in front of us.
We take away from this whole experience that youth international competitions exposure is super important to promote American fencing. While Olympians and the pride they bring to our country is huge and truly inspiring for many, for kids we see that having their schoolmates going to such high level international competition and bring home a medal, that this is possible.
That’s worth saying again – international competition shows our young people that this is possible!
These kids can touch and hear stories of their friends in flesh and blood (and not a far away hero on the TV), and that is super important. The Olympics are a dream, an inspiration, a lifetime goal. On the way to get there, there are small yet important milestones that are really obtainable by “regular” kids, kids that going to the same school as your kids, kids that could be your kids!
These accomplishments can be highlighted by their schools and their school districts and promoted to showcase what kids can do. This is what we need! This is what will help a lot in terms of US fencing on a daily basis.
There were 17 US fencers who went to Rio, and there were 10x more kids that went to Puerto Rico. The Olympics are once every 4 years, while Pan American Championship is yearly event. Do the math! There’s a LOT of opportunity here for fencers to be a part of international competition.
Our hope is that the USFA will leverage this opportunity to make fencing more visible in the schools and with young people across the country – the place where fencing starts.
Rarely do we see youth and veteran events taking place at the same time and venue. This competition gave our youth fencers an opportunity to witness that fencing goes beyond ages, beyond countries, beyond boundaries. It was one of the most incredible fencing experiences the young fencers have ever had the privilege of being a part of, and we are so thankful and proud for it!