My trip to Los Angeles and Zacatecas has been a rollercoaster ride. After only making it through the poules at the Grand Prix in Anaheim, I was determined to thrive in Zacatecas. I stayed in Anaheim for four more days before I flew to Zacatecas. These days I mostly studied in my hotel room (I have exams two days after I get back) and fenced at night at Golubitsky Fencing Center.
I felt strong and motivated when I flew to Zacatecas. However, This feeling was undermined more and more as we (the fencers at the competition in Zacatecas) realized how flawed the organization was. We all knew beforehand that the competition would be slightly different from the other FIE ones, as Mexicans (no offense) tend to have a different perception of time and strict organization. Nonetheless, no one could have prepared us for what was to come.
The venue was an open hangar-like hall located in the mountains. Quite idyllic you would say, but Zacatecas is very dry at this time of the year and there is a lot of dust in the air. The venue had not been cleaned, so there was a thick layer of dust everywhere (and bird-poop as doves could fly into the venue). The pistes were old and worn out and together with the dust dangerously slippery. Together with fencers from other countries, I protested about this and they told us they would fix it before our competition started. Evidently, they did not, so I had to clean my shoes with a wet towel after every single point. Also, the sanitary was dirty, clogged and without paper. Then, there was the problem of transportation. At first, there was no transportation whatsoever. One car would drive up and down from the hotel to the fencing hall to transport everyone. On the competition day, they had found a bus (yay!), but this driver had no idea where the venue was and could only speak Spanish. Result: we arrived at the venue 40 minutes prior to the start of the poules (for the non-fencers: normally you arrive 2 hours in advance). I had to put all this aside and focus on the competition.
I started very well by winning all bouts in my poule. However, I did notice that my referee was slightly biased. Whenever possible, the point would go to the Mexican fencer. This is absolutely unacceptable at an official FIE competition, but asking for a different referee was not an option. Why? Well, because there were only three referees and they were all Mexican. None of them spoke any other language than Spanish, so discussing points was not possible.
Winning everything in my poule resulted in a 2nd overall ranking on the tableau and a bye for the first round, T32. Normally, you would have to wait for one to a maximum of three hours (worst case scenario) for the T16, as there are only 16 bouts to be fenced. You guessed it, not here. I fenced my T16 bout at 16:45 (note that we started at 09:00 in the morning) because the Mexican Federation had decided to also hold a national competition on this day. This national competition was for all weapons and both genders and we had to share our pistes and referees (yes, all three).
When I was finally allowed to fence, I faced a Mexican fencer and had a Mexican referee. The winner of this match would be in the T8 and thus earn a world ranking point. The girl was tough, and I had some trouble figuring out her game in the beginning and all “doubtful points” were given to her. After the second break, she was ahead with 12-7. But soon after I found the solution and started closing in on her score. Eventually, it was 14-13 for her and I only had 7 seconds left on the clock. We both made a straight attack (some would even argue that I started earlier), but she got the point without a shred of doubt. The referee was not open for discussion and left straight away with the result. All the foreign fencers on my side were just as outraged and stunned by this decision as I was, but there was nothing I could do. After making an appeal at the DT they said it was up to the referee and I was kindly asked to go away. My final ranking is 10th place.
I was pretty shaken by the way the organization had handled all this and what the consequences were for me personally. I felt disgraced as an international fencer, who had flown in all the way from Amsterdam to fight a fair game. I would discourage every international fencer to ever go to this competition and warn you in case you do.
Disappointed in the turnout of events I was really looking forward to going home to my friends and family. But, Mexico was not finished with me yet: My flight from Zacatecas to Mexico City was delayed (no apparent reason why) and consequently I missed my connection to Amsterdam. Since the next flight was in 24 hours, I am currently in a hotel in Mexico City waiting for my much-desired flight back home. Once home I have to tackle two exams and then I believe I need a drink. (non-alcoholic of course 😉 )