This incredible interview of Ildar Mavlyutov by Tatyana Kolchanova was posted originally on the Russian Fencing blog on October 18, 2019. Ildar Mavlyutov is a major fencing coach from Russia who has been a mentor to Inna Deriglazova. Inna is the 2016 Olympic Champion, a six-time Fencing World Champion, and Olympic powerhouse foilist.
It is always fascinating to learn from the world’s best athletes and coaches, and Ildar Mavlytov and Inna Deriglazova definitely proven themselves to be of that world’s best caliber. Deriglazova is called by some “the Fencing Goddess”. They both live in the small city of Kurcharov, which is near Kursk, a city in Russia which became famous due to a World War II battle. Kurchatov is a very small city, with a population of slightly over forty thousand people, yet it is home to multiple World and European foil fencing champions who have been raised by Ildar Mavlyutov. When he offers his insight about fencing, training and motivation, using the example of his best student, Inna Deriglazova, it is definitely worth to read.
A few months ago I translated an interview with Deriglazova, which showed her character. Now it is even more interesting to learn about her character through the lens of her famous coach. So I am happy to bring this insight from Ildar Mavlyutov to an English reading audience. We’ve kept this translation as true as possible. You can find the original piece here. Happy reading!
Original piece by Tatyana Kolchanova
In July 2019, the Kursk fencer Inna Deriglazova from Kurchatov and student of the outstanding coach Ildar Mavlyutov, again celebrated victory at the Fencing World Championships in Budapest. In Moscow at the Fencing World Championships in 2015, Inna climbed to the top of the podium for the first time in individual competition. A year later in 2016 she triumphantly won at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. In 2017, with her wins at the Fencing World Championships in Leipzig and this year in Hungary, she solidified her position as one of the highest level fencers in the world. In Hungary, she pushed through to victorious points in the final of the individual tournament against French fencer Pauline Ranvier. In the team tournament she faced down prominent Olympic and World Champion Italian fencer Elisa di Francisca
It should be noted that in the individual competition in women’s foil at the Olympics, representatives of the USSR and then Russia won just twice. The gold of the Games in 1968 was won by Elena Belova from Minsk. Now, the top Olympic prize belongs to the Russian team with Inna Deriglazova.
You might assume that the Kursk region gave birth to a unique fencer who achieved highest results in fencing. Looking back, I can say that there are many such fencers who have been brought up by the same coach. That means we need to talk not only about the amazing qualities of Inna Deriglazova, but also about the outstanding talent of her coach. After Ildar Masalimovich returned from Budapest, I talked with him about not only Inna, but about his vast legacy in fencing.
KOLCHANOVA – I remember the triumphant victories of your students at the European Fencing Championships. In 2006, Yana Ruzavina won in Turkey. Evgenia Lamonova won in 2007 in Belgium. As part of the Russian National Team in 2008, she also celebrated victory at the Beijing Olympics. After the Games in China, three of your students – Ruzavina, Lamonova, and young Inna Deriglazova, by then the world champion among cadets and juniors, all went on maternity leave at the same time. What does it mean for a coach when two highly successful athletes and a young and talented one suddenly interrupt their sports career like that?
MAVLYUTOV – Yes, it’s not an easy time for the coach. But I had other students with whom I had a long way to go. Among these are the repeated world medalist from the Russian National Team Yulia Biryukova and Katya Kozhikina. In the absence of Deriglazova in 2009, Katya became the World Champion among juniors. Dmitry Zherebchenko as well, who subsequently won the individual gold in the 2017 World Championship [and Bronze in 2019 World Championship]. At the same time, I had already begun working with Kristina Samsonova, who became the winner of the World Championship as a cadet. As for Deriglazova, she did not stop training during this time. Two weeks before giving birth, I told her “Enough. Now it’s time to think about your baby” In the last months before childbirth, we mainly worked on hand techniques, refined weapon control techniques.
KOLCHANOVA – And what happened to the fencing fate of Yana and Zhenya after the birth of their children?
MAVLYUTOV – In 2010 at the Cup of Russia, Yana Ruzavina became the silver medalist. Evgenia Lamonova made it onto the Russian National Team and in 2010 she became the medalist of the European Championship. Then she was the World Champion as a member of the team in 2011 in Italy.
Yana Ruzavina wasn’t that lucky though. At the training camp she was injured while playing basketball, tearing her cruciate ligament and inuring her ankle. For a long time she was just out of order. Then she began to train again, but was no longer of a level to make it to the National Team. Eugenia Lamonova ended her sports career in 2012, when it became clear that she would not make it onto the team for the Olympics in London. At that point she left the sport and gave birth to a second child. But before that in 2011 Lamonova, together with Deriglazova, became World Champions as part of the team. Inna, after returning to the sport in 2010, won at the Junior World Championship. She also made it onto the Senior National Team and took third place in the European Championship.
KOLCHANOVA – If you were to compare these three women, what qualities distinguished each of them?
MAVLYUTOV – Firstly, they are all talented and hardworking, but Deriglazova was distinguished by the fact that she worked without stopping. She was easily coachable, carried out all tasks with precision, possessed an irresistible thirst for victory, and always wanted to be first. This thirst helped her motivate herself to get to the highest result. Very early on, she realized that in order to achieve her lofty goals, she needed to work more than others.
At the very beginning of her journey in sports, this thirst seemed to prevent Inna from stopping, restructuring, and thinking. She irresistibly burst into attacks, sometimes to the detriment of the result. I remember one of the experts watching her in the stands said that it was time for her coach to grab her by the cord from the reel so that she would not rush into unprepared attacks. But over time, everything changed for her.
KOLCHANOVA – What did the coach need to do, from the point of view of the student’s psychology, in order to diversify the repertoire so that the student could learn to choose the moment, play the phrases, and force the opponent to play according to her rules?
MAVLYUTOV – There was nothing special to do. It was necessary to work patiently and constantly. That’s all. It was easy to work with Inna because she was very hardworking. If I said that she needed to come do a private lesson twice a day, then she willingly did it. I mean, during school holidays when there were breaks in studies. She was ready to train as much as her coach would say she needed to. That means that when there is an intensive training the fencer would begin to learn techniques.
Inna is one of those rare athletes who instantly grabs everything. You could show her the technique, explain the tactical task, and then she very quickly transferred the technique from the lesson to the strip, to the training bouts and, most importantly, to competitive bouts. By this she always amazed me.
Nowadays I have more critique of her than before. It seems to me now that she is not sufficiently applying what she knows. In her younger years, it often seemed that even when Inna had not yet worked out the technique, she was already transferring it to bout. She did it as if she had had mastery of this technique for a long time. This is an invaluable quality! It was also very valuable that from a young age Deriglazova knew how to switch her strategy in an unexpected way before her opponents. She possesses this quality now, but in the past it was simply striking, astounding, because she was still very young. It seemed that she already had a worldly wisdom, and this wisdom was there on the strip.
Inna also fenced beautifully. Masterfully, she quickly understood the situation and effectively stood on the strip. In our Kursk region, all athletes stand in the classic fencing position. We pay special attention to this, since I believe that the better the athlete is at these classic techniques, the more success they will get. This is an axiom. My coaches and I have always sought this from fencers.
KOLCHANOVA – Back to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Was this high result part of your plan? You know Inna very well, could you assume that there would be a victory, or were you just aiming for your student to do a good job?
MAVLYUTOV – Specifically, at the Olympics, we did not talk about getting first place. We talked about the fact that we worked a lot and that this work should not be wasted. We talked about how we are scared but that the opponent is just as scared, and why should we be more scared than them? We said that you need to pull yourself together, no matter what happens. This aspect of things of course played a big role.
Inna sometimes breaks down. It happens, she loses control over herself. But at such significant competitions as the Fencing World Championships or the Olympic Games, she tries as much as possible to concentrate and keep herself in control.
I don’t so much remember the victories but the extreme situations. These situations are important to analyze in the future, where both I and Inna can learn a lesson.
This happened in Leipzig when she almost lost at an early stage of the competition to the Hungarian Fanny Kreiss. It was noticeable to me that she relaxed a little, because she always able to beat Kreiss relatively easily. I saw that she didn’t turn on her competition focus completely. She was pressed two or three times to the wall when she was behind 4–5 touches. In the end, when there were just a few seconds before the end of the bout, she was losing 11:14. Yet she managed to pull herself together and listen to me, to hear and perform what her coach was telling her. It helped her. This is a valuable quality – to manage yourself and to be manageable in extreme situations.
KOLCHANOVA – You said that Inna hears you. This is a huge plus …
MAVLYUTOV – Yes, exactly. I want to emphasize that she hears me at very high competitions in a situation of tremendous tension.
KOLCHANOVA – Traditionally, the Italians are our main rivals. Do you work out any specific strategies for the bouts against Italians in the lessons and in training?
MAVLYUTOV – Honestly, I very rarely practice techniques with students against specific fencers. What I am doing is developing specific techniques against left-handed or right-handed people. I want to create the easiness of using techniques against a person holding a foil in his or her right or left hand.
KOLCHANOVA – Recently, it often happens that the main, decisive bouts for Inna are often against Italian Elisa Di Francisca. She is angry, motivated, often does not behave all that correctly on the strip.
MAVLYUTOV – I will say this – she is a great fencer. An Olympic champion, a multiple World Champion.
KOLCHANOVA – And she’s an adversary who can infuriate. How to tune in to such an opponent?
MAVLYUTOV – Inna managed this at the World Championship. A distinctive feature of Deriglazova is that she is always ready to fence according to the rules. She hates it when the rules are violated. This pisses her off. For example, this can happen with tilts of the body, covering with a mask, or with the naked hand. Italians are masters of these things.
I will never forget the 2007 World Cup, when Lamonova did not make it into the top eight because the eminent Italian Giovanna Trillini was constantly covering [the valid target] with her mask. The referee punished her only once. Inna gets very much offended at such behavior. She believes that this is cheating and her principle is that there is no place in sport for cheating. It was good that at the World Championship in Budapest, Di Francisca was carded for this violation. It was purely psychological. In that instance, the opponent was punished and Inna was satisfied and managed to continue the fight. Everything went along according to the rules, and this encouraged her to collect herself emotionally. In general, Inna is ready to fence against any opponent. It is only dishonesty that can infuriate her and cause her to lose composure. If the rules are followed, she is ready to fight, and in the fight she is very strong.
KOLCHANOVA – Is Inna so intent on following the rules in everyday life?
MAVLYUTOV – Yes, and sometimes it bothers her. She requires a lot from herself, but also from others. When Inna was little, she was silent about such things. If she saw any injustice in her life, she endured it quietly. Now she can express her position in situations. She is able to because she is a champion.
KOLCHANOVA – Inna has a family, including her daughter Diana. What does she think about the future beyond fencing? Or is her mind now only on the sport?
MAVLYUTOV – Right now the main focus is sport. But she really loves her family – her daughter and husband, her dad and mom, her sister and other relatives. She is a family woman. She doesn’t like going out. On the contrary, it’s suffering for her to have to be away from home for a long time. This is reflected in her training process. She begins to get nervous and irritated when she is away from her family. Therefore, whenever possible we try to train at home.
KOLCHANOVA – Some athletes are able to compete for a long time in their sport and others are not. How long do you think Inna will be able to maintain at such a high level of fencing?
MAVLYUTOV – Everyone develops differently. Di Francisca is already thirty-seven years old. The great Italian Valentina Vezzali fenced and won up to the age of forty-two. These are the competitors to whom we look to as examples of dedication. For Vezzali too, first place was always a driving force, though I am not a big fan of her fencing. Her strategy was built on the compulsion to take advantage of mistakes that the opponents make. However her driving desire to win is always worthy of respect in my opinion.
KOLCHANOVA – Do you think Inna will make a good coach?
MAVLYUTOV – This is something that is hard to wrap the mind around. What makes a person a good coach? It happens when a person wants to teach others what they can do. In the meantime, Inna is putting all of her thoughts into the direction of new competitions. The main one in her sights will be the Olympics in Tokyo. I want her to perform there successfully. The only thing that will prevent her from doing well is an excessive desire to win, which can make an athlete burn out. To prevent this from happening, the coach’s task is to pull it back from that, instead bringing the athlete to the competition in the right form and the right mood. The task of the athlete herself is to control herself in any situation.
KOLCHANOVA – Why do your women fencers achieve the best results? Although the example of Dmitry Zherebchenko suggests that with the guys you work with make it to a high level as well.
MAVLYUTOV – Before arriving in Kurchatov in 1983 as a coach, I had more success in women’s foil. I started my coaching career in Kaluga, where I already had talented young women. In Kurchatov there were no sports schools where schoolgirls could engage in women’s sports, such as rhythmic gymnastics for example. In general, sport at that level was broken down into sections like hobbies. When I announced the class, focusing on the women’s foil, about sixty girls gathered. I had a lot to choose from.
KOLCHANOVA – Inna from the age of seven had trained with Lidia Safiullina, then went on to train with Elena Kozhikina. How did she draw your attention?
MAVLYUTOV – By the time she arrived, I had already built a system that worked well in our sports school. My student from Kaluga Safiullina worked on teaching kids the initial fencing skills. Then I invited Lena Kozhikina, a graduate of the Smolensk Institute of Physical Education, to work. I taught her how to work, how to give lessons, the basics of coaching, how to make use of technical and tactical coaching skills and to transfer all of this knowledge to children .
The women agreed that for the first two or three years they would work with the children, and then they would transfer the most interesting ones to me. These women believed in me and knew that I would not let them down. And I did not fail them. I am proud now that they grew up to be very strong coaches, to become Honored Coaches in Russia [note – Honored Coach of Russia is the highest coaching rating in Russia, given to the coaches whose students reached significant international results]. Then for a whole year, before Inna came to me, Lydia was constantly talking to me about her and asked me to work with her. After some time, I took the ten-year-old Deriglazova to a lesson and began to work with her whenever I had the opportunity.
I have a set system in which I start working with students from the age of ten. I can’t do it before that age, it’s purely psychological.
KOLCHANOVA – Why is that?
MAVLYUTOV – I have delved into this question for a long time myself. It’s only recently that I understood the reason why. I am very demanding when it comes to technique, when it comes to the form on the strip. I rigidly demand the implementation of technical techniques in classical ways.
I am firmly convinced of one thing, and time has proven this point, that when a person does not think about how to respond or take on the defense but only gives himself the command to execute this or that tactical action, he is destined for success. When there is not enough technique a fencer, having created an excellent tactical phrase, can miss or stab outside the point area. When this happens, the fencer loses the phrase. The next time he wants to do this tactical phrase, it will be simplified. Now what does his fencing turn into? He either runs in with an unprepared attack, or can do nothing but counterattack. This is the road to nowhere.
KOLCHANOVA – I have to wish you and your outstanding student Inna Deriglazova a successful path to the Games in Tokyo and win the next battle!
MAVLYUTOV – On the one hand, I am very pleased with my life. I am a happy person, I think that life has already given me many rewards. My students have won two Olympic Golds and Silver medals at the Olympic Games. I am very proud of the results at the last three Olympics. Even if there is nothing more, I will assume that I did not live in vain in fencing.
On the other hand, we will continue to strive for high results in the future, because I never think about past successes. By and large, victories gained in the past become uninteresting in the present.
Thanks again to the Russian Fencing Federation, to Tatyana Kolchanova, and to Ildar Mavlyutov for this incredible interview!