I am sure many of you reading this site will have watched Richard Kruse’s fantastic fencing at the Rio Olympics in the Individual Men’s Foil getting so close to a medal. This was how The Guardian summed it up today –
“Odds would have been long indeed for Britain’s first medal in these Games to come from a discipline which had not managed such since 1964 but the fencer Richard Kruse came agonisingly close before falling in the foil bronze match.
Kruse, a 33-year-old Londoner and world No6, competing in his fourth consecutive Games, lost out 13-15 to the Russian Timur Safin, having reached the semi-finals and confounded those who assumed his best hopes were long behind him after a disappointing home Olympics in 2012.
He had been unaware it would have been Britain’s first medal. “Really? I didn’t know that but I actually felt more pressure from the fact that Britain hasn’t won a fencing medal in such a long time,” he said afterwards. “That was probably the expectation when I got to the [last] four but I couldn’t convert it.”
The bronze match was a study in styles: Kruse upright and elegant, dancing lightly on the balls of his feet against the low-crouched but menacing Russian. The latter’s aggressive style won out; after tight opening exchanges Safin opened up a 12-5 lead and, although Kruse rallied magnificently in the second round, closing to 14-13, the gap proved too much.
“I learned what to do too late,” Kruse said. “I was fencing him at a larger distance, using a lot of force, and then when I started to think about what I was doing I got the better of him but it was gone by then.”
Gold in the event went to the Italian Daniele Garozzo, who overcame the American prodigy Alexander Massialas 15-11 in a close contest and sprinted in joy around the arena as his opponent wept on the dais.
Kruse’s march to the medal positions was no cakewalk. Having first taken care of Algeria’s Hamid Sintes, the Briton then defeated the two-time Olympic team gold medallist Andrea Cassara of Italy, followed quickly by the 2015 world bronze medallist Gerek Meinhardt of the United States to move into the last four.
Here his chance of gold or silver faded in a tense, probing exchange with Massialas. The American, at 22, is a decade younger and showed all the dash and speed of it. Kruse spent much of the match inviting him on, hoping to tempt rashness but Massialas struck repeatedly and with devastating velocity, building a commanding 8-4 lead after the first three-minute round.
Belatedly Kruse realised more aggression was required but it came at a price. Massialas proved equally capable of the counter-strike and as 8-4 became 12-6, there was no way back for the Briton.
A great future was predicted but subsequent attempts proved tougher. In Beijing a last-16 exit was accompanied by 14th place, while four years ago in London was worse yet – out in the last 32 and 17th overall.
Now Kruse competes in the team event, in which there are serious grounds for optimism. It went almost unnoticed at the little-regarded European Games in Baku last year but the men’s team of which Kruse was the spearhead defeated the reigning Olympic champions, Italy, in the final.
It was Britain’s first team victory at world or European level for 50 years and clearly engendered a wave of confidence on which Kruse surfed to Rio.
“We’ve got Russia in the team but they don’t have their best guy with them – don’t ask me why – so that should help us,” said Kruse with a wry reference to doping. But he refused to cast aspersions on his bronze medal opponent.
“Fencing is generally a clean sport and I’d like to see the best of my colleagues, that I’ve grown up and fenced with, here, so I’d like to see the positive,” he said.
As a spectator sport it is pure theatre. The arena is darkened around the edges of the spotlight-blazed catwalk on which opponents face off, poised on their toes for maximum reaction-time.
Some favour a forward-leaning, aggressive stance, others the weight more evenly distributed to allow equal facility for retreat. The exchanges blur with speed, a lunging, whirring dance often lasting no more than a split second, sometimes a more cautious, probing exchange, ending on occasion with both parties claiming victory.
Here the similarities with cricket are curious: after coming together with scoring touches fencers will appeal hopefully to the referee in the manner of a spin bowler seeking lbw. Often they will demand the outcome go to television replay with that same draw-a-square hand gesture, which seems curious given the touches are measured by sensors in the foils’ tips. It is not Hawk-Eye but avian vision would be very much to a judge’s advantage.
And how Kruse might have wished too for those heightened senses. He vows he will come back stronger but may never get a better chance.”