Some Canadian sports are beginning to close their doors to foreign coaches.
Not so the Canadian Fencing Association. It sees the lack of world class coaches in Canada as the sport’s most serious problem and is looking outside the country for solutions.
Recently, a man who has been at the forefront of Polish fencing for many years — as an athlete, coach, and administrator — spent six weeks evaluating Canadian fencers and helping to prepare them to compete in the upcoming Pan American Games.
Zbigniew Scrudlik was a member of the Polish national team from 1957-68. He won a silver medal in team foil at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and a bronze medal in the same event at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. He also won numerous medals in team foil at world championships.
From 1968-78, Scrudlik was national team foil coach. His fencers won two gold medals at the 1972 Munich Olympics. He was also technical director of the Polish Fencing Federation.
While it’s too soon to give a definite assessment of fencing in Canada, Scrudlik says that Canada has special problems because of the size of the country and the lack of a fencing tradition. What Canadian fencers need most though, aside from good coaching, is, he says, “the opportunity to fight.” This means strong fencing centres across the country, each with a good coach, coupled with plenty of international competition.
Scrudlik says that in Poland, a very good calendar of international competition is considered essential. That, along with planning, modern training methods, and coaching, is what Scrudlik sees as the critical elements of Polish fencing success.
’’Fencing isn’t an easy sport to develop,” says Scrudlik, “because a lot of patience is required before getting results — usually 10-15 years.”
Another crucial element is the need for a broad base of activity. Poland has close to 6000 licensed fencers whereas Canada has only about 500.
Scrudlik hopes to spend the next two years coaching in Vancouver. The only hitch is the province’s ability to raise enough money to hire him. If he does go to Vancouver, Scrudlik will be only the second full-time fencing master in the country.
The other is Andrzej Wojcikiewicz, coach of the RA Fencing Club in Ottawa, who attended university with Scrudlik.
Wojcikievicz says the major difficulties facing Canada are good coaching, experience, and a population base.
“But above all,” he says, “Canada must have good coaches.” He adds that Quebec hasn’t as many problems as the rest of the country because they’ve developed their own system which includes sending coaches to Europe for training.
“Only one club in all of Ontario is producing good fencers,” says Wojcikiewicz, “and that’s the RA club in Ottawa. And although my major job is coaching, I am also employed part time as a recreational supervisor. It’s difficult to be a full time fencing master in Canada.”
Scrudlik says that it’s not enough to have clubs.
“You must also get into the schools,” he says. “If you stay at the club, you attract very few people.”
Wojcikiewicz agrees, adding that it is very important for a sport to be “popular”. Both men mention the movie, The Three Musketeers, which provided a lot of impetus for fencing as a sport for young children. After the Ottawa run of the film, the enrolment at the RA club doubled, says Wojcikiewicz.
“The great European fencing countries — Italy, France, and Germany — can look to historical examples such as Cyrano de Bergerac,” says Scrudlik. “Canada has no such tradition. So if it takes a movie to help the sport, then you have to be ready to capitalize.”
Wojcikiewicz says that Canadian fencers have “a lot of chances to win medals at the 1979 Pan American Games.”
“It’s difficult to predict the kinds of medals,” he says. “But our big chance is probably with the ladies foil team. We also have a young and dynamic men’s sabre team but it doesn’t have as much experience as ladies foil. In any case, the strongest competition will come from the Cubans and Americans.”
As for the 1980 Olympics, Wojcikiewicz says a couple of Canadian fencers could place in the top 16.
“But,” he cautions, “you must remember that in fencing, this means beating many of the best on the way. A coach’s most difficult job is making the athlete believe that he or she can beat someone who is better. When our fencers go to Europe, they are afraid. They don’t believe they can beat the Europeans. Someday they’ll start to believe, but this takes time. And we need men like Zbigniew Scrudlik to help.”
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