Wheelchair Fencing with Piers Gilliver & Dimitri Coutya
As the Paralympic Games in Tokyo are about to start and next year will see the inaugural Commonwealth Wheelchair Fencing Championships, we thought there was no better time to speak to some Paralympians about their experience of wheelchair fencing and what they're looking forward to about CFC22!
Piers Gilliver is the current World Number 1 in Men's Category A Epee and Sabre, Epee World Champion and won a silver medal in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Dimitiri Coutya is equally impressive - Dmitri is also a Paralympian from Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and is the current World Number 1 in Men's Category B Epee and Foil.
All photos in this article are courtesy of Yuka Fujita
CFC22: Hi both, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. We'll get started straightaway with the start: how did you both get involved in fencing? Where did you start, and what was it that got you hooked?
DC: The first time I fenced was in 2009, at a summer camp my primary school took us to. When I joined my secondary school later that year, I took up fencing as a games option after having enjoyed it so much at the summer camp. I clearly got the bug because I 've never stopped!
PG: I first became involved in Wheelchair fencing in 2010, one day I was looking online for an activity to do in my spare time, but as I'd never been particularly sporty before, none of the Paralympic sports really jumped out at me. I wondered if a Paralympic version of fencing existed, and after my surprise discovery that it actually did, I decided that I had no excuse not to try!
CFC22: It's great to hear that you started the same way so many other fencers started (both wheelchair fencers and non-wheelchair fencers) and then went on to compete all over the world and at the highest level! Amongst all your many successes what would you say your most exciting or memorable experience of international fencing has been so far?
DC: My most exciting experiences in international fencing would be winning double gold at the World Championships in 2017. Having that first taste of victory at a major championships was so exhilarating, and was a huge motivator personally to continue training and trying to learn everything I could in such a diverse and brilliant sport, and encouraging me to try and keep my position at the top.
PG: The most exciting highlight of my fencing career so far has been competing in the Rio Paralympics, when I came home with silver. Competing at a Games really is a unique experience and unlike any other event, and as a culmination of many years training and focus, it's hard for it not to feel special!
A second highlight for me was the 2019 World Championships in Korea, it was a special competition for me, as I was able to take home not only the Epee title, but also medal in Sabre, and in the epee team for the first time, so it meant a lot to see how the sport in GB is progressing with talented new athletes joining our squad.
Dimitri in action in the final of the Men's Category B Epee of the Sao Paolo 2019 World Cup!
Piers with his gold medal from Men's Category A Epee at the Sharjah World Cup in 2019.
CFC22: Clearly you've both been incredibly successful internationally! How do you feel about another championships being added to the wheelchair fencing calendar, in the form of a Commonwealth Fencing Championships?
PG: The Commonwealth Fencing Championships will definitely be a unique experience for me, due ot the fact that it's the first time Wheelchair Fencing has been part of the Commonwealths. I'm really excited to be one of the first athletes to compete in this event in my sport!
DC: I think the Commonwealth Fencing Championships in London will be an incredible experience. It would be an honour to compete in this event as it will be the first time wheelchair fencing is in the Championship, and to be able to compete on home soil with a supporting crowd is something I have always wished I could experience, especially after watching the London Paralympic Games in 2012.
SPotlight on... Wheelchair fencing
CFC22: You both came into Wheelchair Fencing in different ways, Dimitri you were budged into the sport by your schools, while Piers you found the sport largely on your own. How important do you think it is to actively promote sport, particularly Paralympic sports to young people to get them involved?
Piers landing a hit in the Men's Epee at the World Championships in Korea in 2019
DC: Absolutely, I think something that should be encouraged more around the UK and the world is to try and maximise the opportunities available for young people, disabled or not, to take up sport and physical activity. It opened so many doors for me and taught me so many valuable skills in life that can be applicable anywhere in any rout I could choose to take.
PG: Absolutely, wheelchair fencing is something I'm obviously very passionate about! So I'd simply encourage as many people as possible to give wheelchair fencing a go, as sometimes people can be put off by being unsure it works. Sparring sessions can be integrated well where able bodied fencers can either sit in a spare chair, or stand up and fence against a seated opponent. also, the tactics and technical actions are basically the same for wheelchair fencers just with a few minor adjustments. So it's a lot more similar than it at first seems.
CF22: Following on from that, do you think that introducing wheelchair fencing to the Commonwealth Championships will make the sport more visible and also benefit the Commonwealth fencing community?
PG: I think having wheelchair fencing as part of the Commonwealth Fencing Championships will have a great impact for all; it's a great opportunity for able-bodied fencers and the general public to see what Wheelchair fencing is all about. Like able-bodied fencing, wheelchair fencing is mostly dominated by the same big nations, so it's a great opportunity for some of the smaller and less traditional fencing nations to participate in the sport and hopefully develop fencing in their nations even further.
DC: I think having wheelchair fencing in the Commonwealth Fencing Championships will provide a great source of entertainment for the spectators. While fencing isn’t a necessarily well known sport, and wheelchair fencing even less so, I think people who come and watch will be surprised, impressed and excited by the speed and power of it, which will raise the profile of the sport and the athletes involved. People would associate the enjoyment of watching sports like this with the Commonwealth Fencing Championships and be more excited to view it next time round.
CFC22: I think you're absolutely right, this is going to be a fantastic opportunity to showcase wheelchair fencing! So, just to round off with a quickfire question, what are you looking forward to most about CFC 2022? We know that we can’t wait to see you there!
DC: I’m looking forward to being able to compete on a large international stage again, and competing against other athletes in the first event of its kind!
PG: The thing I'm most excited about CFC 2022 is the chance to be part of something new, and the chance to be part of an integrated team, competing alongside fellow England fencers, both able-bodied and Paralympic. I think it's a great step forward in the progression of disability sport. Also, so far in my carer I've never competed in an international on home soil, so that is something I'm also keen to experience.
Dimitri attacking in the Men's Category B foil final at the Amsterdam World Cup in 2019. Do you think Piers and Dmitri will make it to the finals? We wouldn't want to bet against them!