Number one in the world ranking, winner of the men’s foil World Cup, World Champion at Wuxi in 2018. The latest guest of the last episode of Fencing2U does not need much introduction. Alessio Foconi opened up on Thursday evening (on Sport2U and OA Sport pages), talking about the restart of fencing, future ambitions for Tokyo, but also about the last few years that saw him becoming one of the bests in the world.
Here some of his comments. On coming back to training, Foconi said “I was looking forward to it, it was nice to be back, to have an opponent, to put the fencing mask on, and I really hope I won’t miss this again. On the postponement of the Olympics, he said “It was a difficult decision, safety is definitely the priority. Now there is one more year to train and get ready; we can’t overthink about it.”
On his improvements in the past years “I started having a different mental approach, starting in the training sessions in the gym. My approach now is not to give anything away. I cure every little detail.” Significant ambitions for Tokyo “I don’t know what an Olympics feels like since Tokyo will be my first one. Thinking about the competition, it gives me more strength knowing that I am among the favourites. When you go to the Olympics, you want to win, not only be part of it.”
Welcome back to the usual Thursday appointment with Fencing2U. A warm welcome to my friend and companion in this adventure, Andrea Zaglio. Our guest today is the number one of the world ranking, winner of the men’s foil world cup and world champion of 2018, Alessio Foconi. Hi Alessio, how are? How are your physical conditions?
“I’m good. I’m in decent shape; at this time, we need to maintain discreet conditions.”
How was it to be back to the assaults?
“Look *shows a scratch on his right hand*. It was great to be back, to train again, to have an opponent, to sweat. I missed it, and I hope it won’t happen again.”
Have you found any creative ways of training during the lockdown like Rossella Fiammingo?
“Not really, I haven’t created a mannequin (laughs). I’ve used this time to take a break from fencing to give my body time to rest and recover from the many years of intense training. Luckily, I have a terrace at home, and I did some physical activity there, to not get completely out of shape.”
How have you been dealing with the postponement of the Olympics to next year?
“We were expecting that decision; safety comes first. The games have been postponed to the same time of the season next year, so I’ll keep training to get there in the best possible conditions. We are still waiting to know how the rest of the season will develop next year. It’s still uncertain what will happen next year, but for now, I just think that I have one more year to train.”
Tokyo will be your first Olympics, right?
“Yes, my first one.”
Have you thought ‘why this had to happen this year?’
“Obviously I have, but if I keep thinking about it, it won’t help. I have worked hard and well in the past few years to get where I am right now, and I am focusing on that.”
How have the past three years been? How did you experience this slow and gradual rise to the top?
“It’s true, slow and gradual. There has been a change in the mental approach, starting from the training. I think all started there, without leaving anything to fate. When I was practising assaults, even with the youngest athletes, my approach was always to not “gift” them with an opportunity to beat me. This has been a new starting point even in the approach of competitions. If I don’t give any chance to make points to kids in training, definitely I won’t give that chance to any opponent in the tournament. This approach made me more hungry for success. It has been a progression that brought me where I am now. And I have to thank all the kids that train with me, and my coach. I have to thank my mental coach, who helped me change my approach and my mentality, to not settle for anything, but always to put 100 per cent in every situation.”
You talked about the change in the mentality. You won, and you were able to win again, it’s never easy to reconfirm yourself. You also won over the pressure of winning to maintain the position at the top, because being the number 1 in the ranking, everyone was expecting a significant result from you. This also shows your improvement in the mentality and the approach.
“Definitely, it’s true, the more you win, the more you want to win, but clearly, there is also more pressure and the weight of expectations. However, if you work hard, both physically, technically and mentally, you can find a balance. You always need to work on your motivations and on your will to win, because it’s easy for me to say ‘well, I’m the world champion, I’m the number 1 in the world ranking, I’m good with that’, the hardest part is to keep pushing. In my case, there is the Olympics that keeps me motivated as I’ve never taken part in one before.”
You have never been to an Olympics, but inevitably, in Tokyo, you will be among the favourites for a medal. How do you feel about it?
“I’ve always experienced the Olympics in the pre-Olympics training camps, and I’ve seen how the other fencers deal with the Games. I’ve seen the Olympics on TV, and I notice that it is a different type of pressure that I don’t know. I can try to understand it as I lived the tension of the World Championships but the Olympics it’s a different type of competition, it’s on every four years and, obviously, the way I think about it, it’s different. Thinking about the Games, being among the favourites give me a lot of strength and confidence, when you go to the Olympics you want to win, you don’t just go there to participate. I go a little bit against the creed of the Olympics “the important is to participate and not to win” [revise it]. All my colleagues think the same when you go to the Olympics, you want to win not just participate; therefore, to be considered one of the favourites give me a lot of strength and confidence in myself. It is still a competition I’ve never experienced before, and I don’t know how I will react emotionally to the Olympics. I can try to continually think and visualise the competition so I can get to Tokyo prepared as much as possible.”
There is not only the individual competition, but there is also the team competition where we need to say it, Italy will be fighting for the gold medal.
The usual battle will be with the USA and France. Gianmario and I have the idea that fencing is a global sport, and besides the European teams, there is the US and Asian teams who are really competitive. What do you expect from the team competition? It seems that a final between Italy and the USA is what everyone expects.
“In the last 3-4 years, the USA has improved a lot and has shown incredible regularity, it showed it also during the previous World championships, that the USA won. Maybe, it is true; everyone is expecting the final to be between Italy and the USA. However, there are a lot of competitive teams. Luckily or unluckily, I was upset to see South Korea losing the qualification for the Olympics at the last chance. It is a very peculiar competition, and you can think that those are the two teams going to the final, but anything can happen. It will depend on the team’s dynamic of each nation.”
Talking about the US, I’ve seen you in a world cup final bout against Itkin, a very competitive final, but very beautiful to watch. What do you think about him? He is also Junior World Champion, and it seems he is improving very quickly.
“Yes, his strength is his will to improve. His body then follows what his mind wants. If he didn’t have that will, he would not be there where he is now, in my opinion. We could not complete the Olympics qualification, and we needed one more competition to confirm the qualified athletes. Still, he basically had qualified and was the third athlete who would compete in the individual event. To see a guy who after, I think he started in the senior competitions a few years ago, being so high in the rankings, so willing to improve and not being scared of the more titled athletes he has in front of him is very nice. I learn from him to be strong, and he motivates me to keep pushing and to not settle for what I already won.”
Is there an opponent that you hope to never meet in the draw at the Olympics?
“Obviously, I don’t want to compete against my teammates until the end of the draw when it’s inevitable. We know each other so well that competing against each other at the Olympics, it’s weird. It’s tough to win based on the techniques of the sport, and it becomes more of a mental and emotional competition. But I don’t have a specific name of someone I don’t want to compete at the Olympics, but perhaps I’m forcing myself not to choose someone as I don’t want to consider myself inferior to anyone.”
In fact, we talked about it with Alice Volpi and Luca Curatoli. He never won against Szilagyi and Volpi lost 11 times out of 13 with Deriglazova, and they said that this situation makes them sometimes think that they are weaker than the opponent. It has a significant weight in their minds.
What is a characteristic that a foil fencer needs to have? Something indispensable.
“Patience. I talk based on my experience obviously, the foil is a fast discipline, it’s in between sabre and epee, and if you let the rush and excitement lead the race, it will be counterproductive. During myself, I noticed that when I was calm and patient, I would be able to come back in bouts where I was behind using the entire time I had available.”
Tell us the typical menu of Terni (Foconi’s hometown).
“I start from the dessert, it’s typical of Christmas time, but you can do it all year long, it’s the Pampepato Ternano, it’s so tasty, and it’s perfect for athletes because it has several types of nuts, cocoa, and a bit of everything. It’s so good and rich in calories (laughs). The first main dish is Ciriole alla Ternana, it is a pasta made with flour and water, cooked with tomato sauce and chilly pepper. The second main dish would be boar meat or hare; I’m telling you all typical dishes not suitable for summer. As an appetiser, truffle bruschettas. If we start talking about food, I can tell you so many dishes we will be here for a long time (laughs).”
What are the plans for the next few months?
“I will keep training, I will have some weekends off. I haven’t planned any holidays.”
Thank you Alessio Foconi and maybe come back visit us after some competition so at least we will have more to talk.
Photo credit: Bizzi/Federscherma