A season's retreat
Gaining a title is never easy. In any sport, at any age class, at any time. To defend a title is, it is said, even more difficult. On March 23, 2016, I managed to win the title of the German B-Youth Champion at my first German Championships in Halle, Germany. It was a hard piece of work, but the feeling of triumph was worth all the hard training, sweat and pain. What I did not know by then was that it was only the beginning.
Text: Leander und Timo Helm
Videos: Timo Helm, Oliver Gröteke
"With elegance and brawn," was the motto of this B-Youth foil Championships and this motto already indicates: Our sport is extremely mental. Of course, you need the experience of a good coach, who encourages and promotes you. Naturally, one needs good physics, a keen eye, fast legs and a fast arm to defeat every opponent. But above all you need the self-confidence and the unconditional will to win every single fight.
My first tournament after winning the German Championship 2016 was a tournament of the Youngster Cup series in Lütjensee near Hamburg. It is a tradition at the tournaments of this series, that the best of every age class will be presented by name. To the 80s classic "the final countdown" by the band "Europe" all fencers who have fought their way to the finals are called individually. Everyone takes a step forward, greets the event organizer, the competitors and the audience, and then joins the ranks of the finalists again. When it was my turn, the tournament leader announced to me: "... and from the Berlin fencing club the DEUTSCHE MEISTER Leander Helm". It was a little embarrassing for me to be moved to the centre of the attention of the entire hall, but also filled me with pride. Suddenly I realized that nothing would be the same as before.
Of course fencers meet the tournaments again and again, you know each other for years, everyone knows the strengths and weaknesses of the others. Fencers are like a great family I once heard someone say. But the title win at the German championships now lifted me a bit from the rest of this family. Suddenly, I was to some extent the Bayern Munich of the 2003 foil age group. The patches from the perspective squad of the German fencing team and the LEON PAUL team, who now pranced on my left arm, did their rest. They all looked at me, everyone chased me, everyone wanted to defeat me. In Lütjensee I finished in the semi-finals, Justin Arndt from Quernheim won the tournament.
The 2016/2017 season started better for me. I had gotten used to the newly gained attention and won several tournaments, including
The Fox of Wittenau an important tournament for all East German federations and one of the best visited tournaments in the region.
In addition, I was able to compete in the International A-Youth Q-Tournament Münchener Kindl among the top 64, placing myself in a German ranking for the first time and getting the start-up right to my first "European Cadett Circuit", the Hädel Cup in Halle. Here I had to say goodbye after the preliminary round, but could still win a fight and a lot of experience.
But a season is long and at the beginning of the year 2017 it ran for the first time not so good for me. It started with a cold, so I missed the federal tournament of the A-Youth in Bad Cannstatt, Stuttgart. So I had no chance to qualify for the German A-Youth Championship in Schwerin.
Also in some other tournaments in February and March, I could not always bring my last year's performances, although I do not want to complain about the results on the whole. The fact was, however, that the German B-Youth Championship was approaching inexorably and I could not find my top form.
Of course, my coaches also noticed this and started talking to me in time. With a strengthened awareness of the problem, I began consistently to work on the upcoming seasonal climax. Slowly, I also improved my training performance and with renewed self-assurance I went to Breslau in Poland to the Wratislavia Challenge.
This tournament is always very special due to its high-class and international starter field. Fighting the age groups 2002/2003 together increased the challenge for me as a younger year. I came through the first round with only one defeat against a Slovaks and got a free kick in the 256er direct exit. Also the following two KO fights I could still win (15: 9 in the 128er DA against a Hungary and 15:12 in the 64er DA against a fencer from Latvia). In the 32er DA waited then with the Tauberbischofsheimer Paul-Luca Faul an old acquaintance on me. After an extremely exciting mach I was defeated at the end, unfortunately, with 14:15. After the first frustration, I was quite satisfied with the 22nd place with more than 200 starters. Much more important was, that I finally found my form, the German B-Youth Championships 2017 could come.
In the week before the tournament we had school-free, which gave me the opportunity to concentrate fully on the training and to go to Halle. Arrived in town, our first way led us to the sports hall to the registration and material control. In the morning of the competition I, was quite excited despite the good preparation. In the previous year, I had lost the first fight of the preliminary round, which should not happen to me again. And in fact everything went like clockwork as soon as I had entered the planche. With the start of the maches, all the nervousness fell off of me and I felt right from the first fight: This would be my day; today no one could stop me.
There are so many factors that ultimately decide about the victory at a major tournament. Anyone who could qualify for this German B-Youth Championship had worked hard and was highly motivated. In my opinion, there were more than half a dozen fencers, who could hope to win the title here. What would make the decisive difference today, among other things, was the daily form. And that was the right thing on this 27th of May, I felt. Without defeat, I finished the preliminary round and also the following intermediate round. In the subsequent KO fights I went to number one and could fight my way in three bouts to the final 8.
In tournaments with a run of hope, those who fight straight to the finals usually have to wait a while until the other finalists have qualified themselves. In such a situation, it is important to use the rest period without losing tension. I knew this from experience, and so I stood up, and yet grew light on the track as the quarter-finals began; In the end I won with 10:0. In the semi-final I met Justin Arndt for the second time on this day. Justin had won bronze here in Halle last year and we know each other from the perspective pool. The first duel of the day I had decided with 10:8 in my favour, this time I went through with 10:7. Now, in the finale, Philipp Sembach of Weinheim was waiting for me. At the last German championship, we had fought twice against each other, both times I managed to get through. However, we had not seen each other on the Planche since then and I had to assume that he had improved. I do not want to describe the course of the fight now in detail, there is a video, there you can take a look at it. Anyway, I could win this last fight (10:8) and defend my title as a German B-youth champion.
All of this seems so easy to write down afterwards, but I clearly felt how all the pressure fell off of me at the time, even though I had not been so conscious of it before. I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to all my trainers, as well as to my parents. Thanks to this support, my two years in the B-Youth have been extremely successful. The next challenge is already waiting: The A-Youth.