British fencing great Richard Kruse retires
Richard Kruse, sporting his GB mask, in action at the Leon Paul Fencing Centre in Hendon
PRESS RELEASE: British fencing great Richard Kruse retires
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Main text, Career Highlights, Extended Q&A
Three photos attached:
1 – Richard Kruse, sporting his GB mask, in action at the Leon Paul Fencing Centre in Hendon.
2 – Richard Kruse talks to youngsters in Hendon about his competitive career.
3 – Richard Kruse takes on a young ZFW fencer, Ben Turner, at the Leon Paul Fencing Centre in Hendon.
ALL PHOTOS credited as: By Chris Turner
The long way home: British fencing great Richard Kruse retires
It has been a long road from a community hall in North Finchley to Athens, Beijing, Rio de Janeiro and random points between. Now, after 20 years of representing Great Britain on the fencing piste as one of the most successful foilist in this country’s history, north London’s Richard Kruse is stepping off the international competitive pathway.
Call it retirement, if you will, although Kruse, aged 37, who has trained with ZFW Fencing Club founder and head coach Ziemek Wojciechowski from the age of “10 and three-quarters”, will carry on in the sport as a coach for Salle Paul Fencing Club, which operates out of the Leon Paul Fencing Centre in Hendon. “I felt that after twenty years at senior international level, it was time to go,” Kruse said. “I certainly have no regrets about my career because I got better innings than most!”
Think of Kruse and associations to the Olympics are seldom far away. Kruse competed in his first Olympics in Athens in 2004, finishing in the top eight. He represented Great Britain again at Olympic level in Beijing in 2008 and the London 2012 Games. At the Rio Olympics in 2016, Kruse finished achingly close to the podium, in fourth spot.
Among all those highlights, what is most memorable? “The most exciting moment was qualifying for my first Olympics,” he says. “I was so pumped up with adrenaline that I didn’t sleep that night as the congratulatory text messages flooded in.”
There are victories and defeats, too, in every athlete’s career. How does Kruse manage them? “Just move on from the losses and continue training. Enjoy and celebrate the wins, but move on from those, too,” Kruse says. “Ultimately, you have to get in the mileage in Olympic sports and perseverance is the key.”
Kruse has claimed podium places in dozens of competitions at home and abroad, winning silver at the World Championships in 2018, and silver medals at the European Championships in 2006 and 2009. He is a multiple gold-medal winner at senior World Cups, claiming the podium in Shanghai, Bonn and Tokyo over the course of 2018 and 2019, when he was world Number One. His last international competition representing Great Britain was in Doha, Qatar, in March of this year, when fencing resumed after being shuttered by Covid-19. Kruse finished his final season ranked 40th in the world.
Sustaining a high-performance level of athleticism has demanded an unwavering commitment to training and the canny ability to time prowess to coincide with competitions. This has been a full-time job since 2009 for Kruse, who has a degree in civil engineering but has dedicated himself to sport. He has relied on funding from UK Sport and private sponsors to stay in the game. In the run-up to Olympic competition, Kruse would do two lengthy training sessions a day in the fencing hall, including sparring, stretching and lessons with Maestro Wojciechowski, himself an experienced elite-level coach and competitor.
Wojciechowski posted news of Kruse’s retirement on social media with a list of his many accomplishments, simply saying: “British fencing won’t be the same without Richard on the piste.” It was a sentiment repeated many times. “It’s been an honour and privilege to have been able to work with Richard – a fencing genius and a fascinating human being,” wrote Johnny Davis, who is the UK’s Olympic fencing manager. And from ZFW’s club secretary, Sheryl Chiu-Sosnov: “A legendary athlete moulded by a legendary coach! An unsurpassable GREAT Briton -- we’re going to miss you on the piste Richard Kruse!”
The sport has taken Kruse to some 65 countries over the past two decades. “I ended up doing extra trips after competitions to go off the beaten track,” including North Korea, Albania and Kyrgyzstan. “I learn languages in my free time as a hobby that clearly complements my love of travel. If it weren’t for fencing then I wouldn’t have met my wife Ivon, who is from Cuba -- so I owe fencing a lot.”
Kruse recalls his first medal in the sport, at an Under-13 competition in Leicester in 1995, noting: “I’ve still got that medal in the garage.” Kruse is known and respected within the fencing world for the time and energy he gives to the sport’s younger members, skills which will serve him well in his new role.
Comparing fencing to physical chess, Kruse urges anyone interested to give it a try. “I didn’t know much about the sport of fencing when I first went to a club – other than it was something to do with sword fighting,” he says. “There is a demanding physical component,” but it is a thinking person’s game. “Ultimately you get the enjoyment of a combat sport without getting hurt (that much)!”
2001 Youngest-ever British Senior Champion at the age of 17
2002 Junior European Champion
2003 Top 8 in the World Championships in Havana, Cuba
2004 Top 8 at the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece
2006 Silver-medal winner at the European Championships
2009 Gold in the Copenhagen World Cup
2009 Silver at the European Championships
2009 Gold at a Grand Prix in Venice
2010 Gold in Copenhagen at a World Cup
2016 Gold at a World Cup in Havana, Cuba
2016 Top four at the Rio Olympic Games
2017 Gold in Cairo at a World Cup
2017 Gold at the Shanghai Grand Prix
2017 Top 8 in World Championships
2018 Gold at the Shanghai Grand Prix
2018 Silver at the World Championships
2018 Gold at a World Cup in Bonn, Germany
2019 Gold at the Tokyo World Cup
2019 World Number One
Richard Kruse talks to youngsters in Hendon about his competitive career.
Richard Kruse was interviewed by Abby Deveney in May of 2021.
AD: You started in 1993, Is that right?
RK: I started fencing in 1994 when I was ten and three-quarters.
AD: What made you walk into the club? Did you know you were walking into a fencing class/club?
RK: I was quite an energetic kid and so my parents took me to try a lot of sports. I did a bit of karate, football, tennis and then finally fencing. I didn’t know much about the sport of fencing when I first went to a club – other than it was something to do with sword fighting.
AD: Was Ziemek (Wojciechowski) your coach from the outset?
RK: Ziemek was my coach from the outset. My sister and Ziemek’s daughter were about the same age and went to the same music group -- that’s how we got to know Ziemek. We knew that he had been involved in coaching the British Olympic team in the 1992 Games and therefore was well established as a fencing coach. Ziemek had just opened a local club in the area and encouraged my parents to bring me along.
AD: What was it about the sport that appealed to young RK? The discipline? The drama?
RK: I liked fighting as a kid so I took to fencing immediately. I preferred it to karate because fencing has an electronic scoring system to let you know when and where you have landed a hit.
AD: What was your very first competition as a youngster? I feel sure you remember it.
RK: My first competition was a London Leon Paul team event. I competed with a few other kids from the local club. I’m not sure where we finished exactly; we won a few matches but didn’t make the podium. I remember the first medal I got. It was a silver medal from an U13 age group competition in Leicester way back in 1995. I’ve still got the medal in the garage.
AD: What made you decide to train and compete full time and become an athlete and competitor?
RK: I always trained hard throughout my career but stayed in academia all the way through university. In 2009, I committed fully to fencing as a career. This decision brought about extra pressure and responsibility because I could no longer use the cop-out that I was just an amateur. In hindsight, it was the right decision to stay competitive against my foreign rivals.
AD: How many hours a week in total were you doing lessons, sparring, S&C at the height of it all?
RK: In the year in the run-up to the London Olympics we were doing two sessions from Monday to Friday. We would stay at the fencing centre in between, have lunch and a nap and then do the afternoon session. Looking back, I think we spent a bit too much time in the fencing hall. What worked best for me was a long session (five hours) every morning from Monday to Friday. I would typically do a 30-minute lesson, 10 minutes of footwork and then bang out five or six matches to 15 (points). That replicated the competition format and worked well for me. Then a core session and stretch down at the end.
AD: While you have won many, many competitions, there have been losses as well. Emotional resilience seems important to all sports, but especially a combat sport where you're alone out there and thinking fast. How have you processed and managed those defeats?
RK: Just move on from the losses and continue training. Enjoy and celebrate the wins but move on from those too. Ultimately you have to get in the mileage in Olympic sports and perseverance is the key.
AD: Would you like to talk briefly about the financial challenges of being a full-time, competitive athlete?
RK: When you are involved in a sport where there isn’t any kind of serious prize money, then being a professional can be problematic. I did win a few thousand dollars from time to time in competitions but it was ultimately not a significant amount. I mainly relied on UK Sport funding and private sponsors to stay professional.
AD: Most exciting moment? And least exciting moment?
RK: The most exciting moment was qualifying for my first Olympics in 2004 in the European Zonal qualifier in Belgium. I was so pumped up with adrenaline that I didn’t sleep that night – as the congratulatory text messages flooded in. Four years later, I missed out on qualification for Beijing by one point and didn’t sleep that night either – for a negative reason. Ultimately, I got a reprieve with a last-minute wild card call-up to Beijing.
AD: Please could you talk a bit about the partnership with Ziemek, the dynamic of a coach and student.
RK: For the first ten years it was like a one-way radio with Ziemek instructing me on what to do -- this was a very efficient way of transferring knowledge to me. However, once I had reached a certain level of proficiency at fencing it then became a two-way dialogue and we ended up discussing things all the time that we implemented in our lessons.
AD: And could you tell me a bit about what international competition has given you, beyond the medals. I am thinking of the friendships, the languages you've learned and cultures you've embraced.
RK: Having fenced on the senior international circuit for twenty years, I have been fortunate to visit around 65 countries. I ended up doing extra trips after competitions to go off the beaten track to see some very obscure places. I learn languages in my free time as a hobby that clearly complements my love of travel. If it weren’t for fencing then I wouldn’t have met my wife Ivon who is from the island of Cuba - so I owe fencing a lot.
AD: Any idea how many countries you've been to for fencing?
RK: I have been to around 65 countries in the world. I love countries with their distinct character with completely alien cultures to Britain. Ones that stand out are Cuba, North Korea, Albania and Kyrgyzstan.
AD: And how many languages have you learned because of your training/competitive travels?
RK: I have knowledge (to varying degrees) of five languages. English is my mother tongue but I use Spanish with my wife on a daily basis. I can speak conversational Hungarian, basic Russian and even more basic Egyptian Arabic.
AD: What about fencing would make you recommend it to a young person?
RK: Fencing is a great sport that has been likened to physical chess. There is a demanding physical component but it is ultimately a thinking person’s game. I would recommend people to try fencing to see if it is their cup of tea. Ultimately you get the enjoyment of a combat sport without getting hurt (that much)!
AD: What are you thinking now you've retired? Relief? Regret?
RK: I felt that after twenty years at senior international level that it was time to go! I do miss fencing a bit but I am still involved with coaching. I cycle everywhere that I go to in London so I am trying to stay fit. I certainly have no regrets about my career because I got better innings than most!
AD: I am sure everyone is wondering: What happens now?
RK: I am moving into a more full-time coaching roll at Salle Paul Fencing Club. Clubs have been on and off for this last year during Covid. Under the current conditions it probably wouldn’t be the best time to open a new fencing club.
AD: Anything else you'd like to share?
RK: No, I think we’ve covered everything.
AD: That's it from me. Thanks very much. Really appreciate it.
Richard Kruse takes on a young ZFW fencer, Ben Turner, at the Leon Paul Fencing Centre in Hendon.
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