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

Central Alberta Archers Association: Proposed safe drug consumption service location puts youth at risk

Turning Point proposes second location for a permanent safe consumption service in Red Deer

Man dead following altercation at gas station on Sunchild First Nation

Rocky Mountain RCMP say victim succumbed to injuries in hospital

UCP member apologizes for ‘unintentionally’ comparing pride flag to swastikas

A member of Alberta’s United Conservative Party is apologizing for making what… Continue reading

Crowd watches as backhoe rips into mangled plane after Halifax runway overrun

HALIFAX — Crews have begun tearing into the mangled Boeing 747 cargo… Continue reading

Grim search for more fire victims, 31 dead across California

PARADISE, Calif. — The death toll from the wildfire that incinerated Paradise… Continue reading

Updated: Red Deer RCMP introduce downtown policing unit

A four-member downtown Red Deer RCMP unit hit the beat on Thursday… Continue reading

Comic book genius Stan Lee, Spider-Man creator, dies at 95

LOS ANGELES — Stan Lee, the creative dynamo who revolutionized the comic… Continue reading

Canada intelligence officials have heard audio of Khashoggi murder, Trudeau says

PARIS — Justin Trudeau says Canadian intelligence officials have listened to a… Continue reading

Canada hoping to solve U.S. tariff dispute by G20 meetings at month’s end: PM

WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s hopeful that Canada can… Continue reading

Bishops will delay votes on steps to combat sex abuse crisis

BALTIMORE — In an abrupt change of plans, the president of the… Continue reading

Man at centre of Nobel body scandal tests rape conviction

STOCKHOLM — The man at the centre of the scandal at the… Continue reading

Chinese premier urges guard of free trade on Singapore visit

SINGAPORE — Chinese Premier Li Keqiang stressed the need for free trade… Continue reading

50 countries vow to fight cybercrime – US and Russia don’t

PARIS — Fifty nations and over 150 tech companies pledged Monday to… Continue reading

More women in poor countries use contraception, says report

KIGALI, Rwanda — More women and girls in poor countries are using… Continue reading

Most Read