Riley Norman

Riley Norman

Fencing requires quick hands, quick thinking

There’s more to fencing than meets the eye, insists Petar Toshkov. Much more.



There’s more to fencing than meets the eye, insists Petar Toshkov.

Much more.

“Fencing is a great sport. I’ve been a professional athlete and have done many sports. Fencing is the most challenging, it took me the longest to learn,” said Toshkov, coach of the Red Deer Fencing club, a 45-member group that meets four times weekly in the Grandview Elementary School gymnasium.

“In Europe it’s called physical chess, so you’re basically playing chess at a high pace,” he continued. “You have to be really smart, a thinker. You have to be physically fit, but also a strategic person who is quick, balanced and co-ordinated. There are more skills needed to compete in fencing than any other sport. It’s very challenging.”

That being said, Toshkov has helped guide more than a few local fencers into provincial and national prominence.

The list includes Zac Zanussi, 17, 13-year-old Riley Norman, who recently took top honours in the under-17 epee event of the Don Laszio Open at Calgary — a competition that attracted top fencers from throughout Western Canada — Nathaniel Johnson, Devyn Hurry and University of Calgary student Karis Langvand.

Hurry is ranked No. 1 in Canada in the U17 epee, while Langvand, who fences with a club in Calgary and works with Toshkov while in Red Deer on weekends, is among the top five in the nation in senior women’s epee.

Toshkov was hired by the Red Deer Fencing Club in 2009 after holding a variety of instructional posts.

He taught the sport at San Jose University, Stanford University and the San Jose Fencing Centre, as well with the Hawaii Fencers Club.

A native of Bulgaria, he is a former national champion of his country and a two-time World Cup medalist. He was ranked among the top 100 fencers in the world over a five-year stretch and was once ranked as high as 30th.

Despite his personal success, he never competed in the Olympics due to ‘new rules’ that were aimed at having a more global representation instead of a glut of European fencers.

“I was at the (Olympic) qualifying competition twice but didn’t make it,” said Toshkov.

“The new rules were not fair to Europeans. I was top 30 in the world and would have gone to Olympics under the old rules. The new rules allowed maybe the 400th-ranked fencer in the world to compete because he’s from a different region.

“Instead of removing fencing from the Olympics, which was threatened, the Olympic committee decided to cut down the numbers, so they made new rules (under which) really strong fencers can’t go, but weak fencers can go. It’s kind of weird.”

Toshkov did coach with the Bulgarian national team in two Summer Olympics — at Atlanta and Sydney — and was negotiating to become the coach of either the Ireland or Iran national team when Norm Wiebe, a co-founder of the Red Deer Club, came calling.

“I kind of knew Norm. He called me and we negotiated,” said Toshkov. “I was looking at national team positions in Ireland and Iran, but decided that there was too much responsibility and politics involved. I wanted to get away from that for awhile.

“I’m enjoying myself here, it’s a good community and a good challenge for me because Red Deer was not on the map for fencing when I came. Now the kids are doing real good and people know about us.”

Toshkov’s salary and other club expenses are paid via member fees and fundraising bingos and casinos.

“It can be quite difficult for us. For examples, Edmonton and Calgary have more bingos and casinos so fencing clubs there can raise more money,” said Toshkov. “We’re the least subsidized of all clubs in the province but we have the best quality.”

Fencing weapons include the epee, used by the vast majority of Red Deer fencers during competitions, sabre and foil.

“The epee is the most popular of all because it’s more close to the real dueling sword,” said Toshkov. “It’s also the most difficult and heaviest of the three weapons and always draws the most competitors.”

For local fencers hoping to one day approach Olympic status, Toshkov is upfront when offering them advice.

“I told all these kids I can prepare Olympic fencers, but it takes about seven or eight years with one coach and much dedication from both sides,” he said.

“The problem here is there is no university. Look at Zac Zanussi, I built him up as a fencer and he’ll be leaving us next fall to go to a university in Ontario, where he will continue to fence. Most of the universities in Canada that have fencing programs are in Ontario and Quebec.

“I can build fencers up to a certain level here, then they have to leave . . . they’re gone. Unfortunately I don’t have the time with them.”

The Red Deer Fencing Club will host the provincial championship April 13-14 at the Collicutt Centre. The Western Canada championship will be held in Edmonton in May and will be followed by the national finals in Ottawa.

Toshkov hopes to be accompanied to nationals by “four or five” Red Deer fencers.

gmeachem@bprda.wpengine.com

Just Posted

FILE - Albertans enter a COVID-19 mass immunization clinic in downtown Calgary, on May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Red Deer down to 115 active COVID-19 cases

Province identifies 165 new cases Sunday

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a closing news conference at Tregenna Castle following the G7 Summit in St. Ives, Cornwall, England, on Sunday, June 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges support for Ukraine, mum on support for next step in NATO membership

Canada will continue to help address security threats in region

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Canada head coach Bev Priestman reacts during the women’s international friendly soccer match between England and Canada at Bet365 stadium in Stoke on Trent, England on April 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Rui Vieira
Canada coach Bev Priestman hopes to see improved performance against Brazil

Priestman will likely field a more senior lineup to start Monday

Jimmy Smits arrives at a special screening of “In the Heights” during the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival at the TCL Chinese Theatre on Friday, June 4, 2021. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Jimmy Smits figured he could carry a tune ‘In the Heights’

‘In the Heights’ follows dreams and struggles of Latino community in New York

Actress Devery Jacobs poses for photographs on the red carpet during the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Thursday, September 13, 2018. Jacobs grew up in the Kanien’kehá:ka Mohawk Territory in Quebec but says shooting her new TV series “Reservation Dogs” in the U.S. felt like “a sense of home. ” THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Toronto-based Devery Jacobs on starring in Indigenous-led series ‘Reservation Dogs’

Series to make its world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

A man wears a face mask as he walks by a sign for a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, May 16, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Canada paid a premium to get doses from Pfizer earlier than planned

OTTAWA — Canada paid a premium to get more than 250,000 doses… Continue reading

The Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., is shown in this 1930 handout photo. HO — Deschatelets-NDC Archives
Calls grow for Ottawa to review settlement decisions for residential school survivors

Lawyer Teri Lynn Bougie still cries when she talks about the final… Continue reading

Most Read