The Pan Am Games fencing competition is a niche sport, and a bit of a mystery to the masses in Canada.
For Canada, Monday was the first day of competition in fencing.
Montreal’s Joseph Polossifakis won silver, losing the championship match 15-9 to American Eli Dershwitz.
Gabriella Page, of Blainville, Que., led briefly but lost 15-13 in the semifinal to Dagmara Wozniak of the U.S., and ended up with bronze in the women’s individual sabre.
“I really wanted to win,” said Page. “I think I lost confidence in my game. I tried to stay in the centre and she completely owned me. If only I had used the strip more like I did when I was leading, then I think I could have won — maybe.”
We went to the Aquatic Centre and Field House on Monday to find out who you might meet at a fencing event. Here’s a sampling of people we came across:
Elizabeth Corey, 22, of Markham
Volunteer: Events services sector co-ordinator
What she does: Solves problems, from seating issues to problems with ticket scanners
Why she is here: She has volunteered at several major events from Ironman competitions to skiing in Norway. She has an interest in sports management.
Quote: “I want to see if maybe I want to go to the corporate side by working for larger sporting companies or even sports teams.”
Michael Ivankovic, 29, of Kitchener, Ont., and Laura Decker, 25, of New Jersey
He was one of four referees selected by the Canadian fencing association. For her part, Decker started fencing in college, as a way to fencing competitions.
Why they are here: Ivanovic was a competitive fencing athlete who started at the age of 6. At 19, he started officiating. Decker’s name was put forward by officials in the U.S. She referees two events, sabre and foil, at U.S. national tournaments, but is fairly new to international events.
Stéphane Hamel, 40, of Montreal
Title: Canadian fencing coach
How it started: In Montreal, he watched a cartoon that featured a turtle with a sword, and found it interesting. Then he saw a demonstration at school. He was hooked the first time he took the foil in his hand.
Quote: “I want people to see fencing. We don’t see enough fencing on television. People think it’s like what happens in the movies.”
Marissa Ponich, 28, of Edmonton
Fencer: Started out in dancing, swimming and curling, now she’s on the national fencing team.
Why she is here: Her husband, Andrew Rusheleau introduced her to the sport when they were just friends.
Quote: “I got kind of addicted to it. I’m up to six days a week of fencing.”
Gabriella Page, 20, of Montreal
Her sport: Sabre competition
Her status: Youngest and highest-ranked member of the Canadian women’s sabre team.
Why she is here: She is climbing up the competition ladder and her bronze on Monday is proof of that ascent.
How it started: Her mom signed her up to a day camp in Blainville, Que., which included fencing on the program.
Quote: “There are some times when I tell myself I’m not capable. Once I change my mindset, and I tell myself I can, I can.”
Bruce Rusheleau, 66, of Prince Albert, Sask.
Title: Fencing fan and father-in-law to Pan Am competitor Marissa Ponich.
Why he is here: Bruce is the father of Canadian men’s fencing team member Andrew Rusheleau, 27, who was got his wife, Marissa Ponich, in the sport.
How it started: Bruce, a retired high school teacher in Prince Albert, Sask., saw an ad in the newspaper placed by the local fencing club and enrolled his son. Later, they drove twice a week to get better instruction in Saskatoon.
Ambrose Lee, 45, of Toronto
Lead medical doctor at Pan Am fencing, who is a fencer himself.
Why is he here: He’s a medical doctor who has own practice and works out of two hospitals in the GTA. He tends to athletes’ injuries and files daily medical reports and supervises the training room that has a chiropractor and several massage therapists.
Injuries: Monday was the first day of the competition and a Colombian male had a minor ankle sprain that was taped up so he could continue.
Typical injuries: Lower body injuries, such as ankle sprains, because of the twisting and turning, and welts from the thrusting and poking.
Worse case: Several years ago, when he was a medical student, he saw a male fencer collapse and die of heart failure.
Quote: “Fencing is a very aerobic activity. Sometimes it puts a lot of strain on the heart, so if you’re not fit for it you can have a massive heart attack.”