15th September 2011
Ahead of the World Fencing Championships in Italy next month, we speak to British Fencing's new Performance Manager.
They have been really good but challenging. The first three months were mainly a review phase, trying to get a handle on what we were doing and how it was being done. We were not getting the results that you would want at an international level and therefore we needed to find out why. I have also taken the opportunity with the Europeans in Sheffield to do an assessment of what the best in the world are doing. We are way behind them in many respects but nothing that cannot be addressed, although some things will be quicker than others. I am confident if we make the changes that I have identified and agreed with the coaching staff then we will start to see some consistent podium performances.
I think the challenges are to come if I am honest. There is a lot of work to do in a very short period of time. I think that the athletes that have been selected for the World Class Programme now understand what I am trying to do and have a more realistic understanding about just where they are in world terms. It is a very challenging environment when someone from outside the sport comes in and starts to make changes. The sport is in a comfort zone of thinking that producing one off good performances is ok – it's not and we need to change this approach but this is a big challenge. Unless we can get athletes to consistently produce then we will stay exactly where we are in world terms.
It's not rocket science, it's about getting the basics right. Getting world class athletes with world class coaches backed up by a world class support system. If we get the basics of a world class programme right and the performances will start to take care of themselves.
Absolutely. Historically a larger number of athletes were supported and went to the World Championships than can produce world class performances. We are not about making up the numbers anymore – we are about winning medals on a consistent basis. There is no point in diluting resources and focus to send athletes who will not even make it through to DE. We need to focus on who can perform on a world stage, now or in the future and invest time and energy in them. Athletes should earn the right to attend a World Championships with world championship performances. We also have a selection criteria, which if I am honest is not that stretching, yet many athletes did not meet it. We have to raise the standard if we are going to match the best in the world.
All sorts of things. We need to make sure that our coaching is constantly being challenged and the way we train and what we are doing is the best it can be. Getting the science and medicine support right is very important.
I have been focussing on making them world class athletes not just world class fencers. We are very good at fencing and fencing training but not so good at producing world class athletes. We now have a greater focus on what it takes to be a world class athlete who is a world class fencer. I think if you asked the athletes they would say that they are spending much more time in the gym, getting fitter, stronger and leaner. We have upped the training intensities and they are probably training harder and longer than they have ever trained before.
It depends on the individual athlete – all of them are different and different things make them tick and produce – what works for one will not work for another. At the moment though I think that it's a lot about whether the athlete is up for the challenge. If they are then you are easily able to motivate them. If a home Olympics in London is not enough to motivate an athlete to put in the hard yards then I don't think anything will.
The support from Beazley is critical. We are only a basic funded sport in terms of the funding we get from UK Sport and therefore we need additional income just to do the basics. If we didn't have the support from Beazley then I would not be able to implement many of the things we are doing which are critical for success on the world stage.