2014 men’s sabre world champs: individual wrap-up

First off, congratulations to Nikolay Kovalev of Russia for landing his first individual World Championship title. The 28 year old right-hander is known for his very dynamic fencing style and has long been my favourite sabreur on the Russian team, and it’s great to see the him return from a long spell of bad luck and ill health to the top of his game.

Image:  Mikhail Shapaev
Image: Mikhail Shapaev

To say that an a-grade sabre competition was tight and had a lot of upsets is enough of a bland cliche as to be almost totally meaningless. As noted in my last post, the margins in this sport are so small as to make a mockery of attempts at casual punditry.  I don’t think Kovalev had many serious backers predicting gold at yesterday’s event, with the numbers favouring Kim, Szilagyi and Reshetnikov and most coaches favouring Szilagyi in particular.

The results last night played out very differently from these comfortable expectations.

1 RUS KOVALEV Nikolay 1986
2 KOR NZ GU Bongil 1989
3 ROU CSM IASI DOLNICEANU Tiberiu 1988
3 RUS YAKIMENKO Alexey 1983
5 HUN Vasas SZILAGYI Aron 1990
6 ITA MONTANO Aldo 1978
7 GER NR TSV Bayer Dormagen HARTUNG Max 1989
8 KOR WON Woo Young

1982
9 KOR KIM Junghwan 1983
10 ITA Fed. Italiana Scherma BERRE´ Enrico 1992
11 ITA OCCHIUZZI Diego 1981
12 FRA 09 DIJON CE ROUSSET Nicolas 1988
13 GER NR TSV Bayer Dormagen LIMBACH Nicolas 1985
14 FRA 24 SOUFFELWEYE ANSTETT Vincent 1982
15 ROU BADEA Alin 1988
16 KOR OH Eunseok 1983
17 RUS National team RESHETNIKOV Veniamin 1986
18 ITA SAMELE Luigi 1987
19 USA HOMER Daryl 1990
20 RUS National team IBRAGIMOV Kamil 1993
21 BLR RCPhES BUIKEVICH Aliaksandr 1984
22 BLR SC TUFB PRYIEMKA Valery 1983
23 UKR Netishyn PUNDYK Dmytro 1989
24 KAZ MOKRETCOV Ilya 1984
25 UKR Musketeer Odessa YAGODKA Andriy 1988
26 USA SPEAR Jeff 1988
27 GER NR TSV Bayer Dormagen WAGNER Benedikt 1990
28 HUN Kertvaros DECSI Tamas 1982
29 GEO FC Kutaisi BAZADZE Sandro 1993
30 FRA 09 DIJON CE APITHY Bolade 1985
31 GER NR TSV Bayer Dormagen SZABO Matyas 1991
32 IRI ABEDINI Mojtaba 1984

Reshetnikov was taken out in the round of 32 by Won Wooyoung, who was fencing well above the form he’s shown so far this season. Kim was on track to cruise to a comfortable victory over Kovalev in the round of 16 when his hand was injured yet again, a moment which ended any chance he might have had of claiming the gold. Szilagyi, as I had feared, was clearly worn down by an arduous bout against a thuggish and unsubtle Sandro Bazadze and was subsequently outclassed by Gu Bongil in the round of 8.
The result was a top 4 which had only one of the pre-comp favourites. Dolniceanu had a pretty easy run of it up to the quarterfinals, but was crushed by Kovalev in a brutal and one-sided semi. The bout between Gu and Yakimenko showed all the classic hallmarks of the Korean’s game, with Gu trailing 8/5 at the break before surging back to a 15/12 win.

Gu's chasing game is almost as characteristic as his lunge.
Gu’s chasing game is almost as characteristic as his lunge.

After those performances, I do not think I was alone in expecting a close final. I felt that Gu had put in a stronger performance on the day and probably had the edge on Kovalev, who had benefited from a series of lucky breaks (Kim’s injury, favourable refereeing against Aldo Montano, a fairly lackluster semifinal from Dolniceanu). Then this happened (start from 2:30:00, fixed start times are not possible from the streams for some reason):

Not a nice bout.

Up to about 6/0, I admit I was wondering when Gu was going to quit playing around and initiate his usual game plan: allow his opponent to build a convincing lead, then launch a vicious 10/0 run of heavily-angulated flat hits and point-counterattacks. By the break, 8/0 down, it became apparent that the cavalry was not coming, and that the notoriously delicate young Korean sabreur had run out of gas even more catastrophically than he had against Szilagyi in the final at Padova earlier this season.

In the end though, it was a very well-deserved win by Kovalev, and a podium which neatly reinforced the perils of idle speculation before sabre competitions.

Photo: FIE
Photo: FIE

In the aftermath of the comp, the rankings table has undergone a major reshuffle. Gu had done enough to leap to world #1 for the first time since 2010, narrowly edging out his team-mate Kim, who retained his #2 spot. Reshetnikov has suffered a major fall from grace, allowing an impressively consistent Italian team to round out the top 10 behind Szilagyi, Yakimenko and Dolniceanu.  Kovalev has been joined by a resurgent Won to jump back into the top 16.

Current FIE rankings MSI, 2014-07-19
Current FIE rankings MSI, 2014-07-19

I know I’ve just declared that prediction is a mug’s game, but I sure am looking forward to a tight race between Russia, Korea and Italy in Monday’s team event.

I guess that means stay tuned for a Romania v Germany final.