CARDIFF University student Amy Radford has qualified for the European Fencing Championships after winning the British Under 23 Epée title last weekend.
She had two previous national titles at both U17 and U20 level, but came third last year in U23. Her recent success meant that she went into Saturday’s competition as the definite favourite.
“It meant a lot to win this new title and add it to my collection. The only British title I’m yet to win is the Senior British Championships. After coming second last year and third the year before, I have some extra motivation to go after it this April.”
After huge success in younger age brackets, the U23 level at which Amy is now competing is relatively new to the fencing circuit.
“The aim is to try to bridge the gap and prevent such a high drop out rate between junior and senior fencers, which I think is a great idea. I have competed for GB at senior international level a number of times, but have struggled to make a breakthrough. Hopefully this intermediary level will help me to further develop as a fencer.”
Amy took up fencing over 10 years ago. She got into it by chance after joining in a class with her cousin.
“I remember having absolutely no idea what fencing was when I went along to my first session, but I soon got hooked. I’ve always been naturally sporty and picked it up quickly. I was quite successful at a young age, and the more I won the more I enjoyed it.”
Balancing university work with her fencing career provides its own set of challenges for Amy.
“Given that I am in final year now and have some important exams coming up. I have tried to scale back my training and competition schedule, but oddly I’m having one of my most successful seasons in recent years.
“I put that down to the fact that I have taken all the pressure off myself. Now that I’m not worrying so much about my results or chasing ranking points, I’ve found that I’ve gone back to really enjoying the sport, which is bringing out the best in me.”
Epée is one of the three fencing disciplines. The other two are called foil and sabre. Each involves a different weapon and slightly different rules.
“Epée is the heaviest weapon and the whole body is the target. There are no rules of priority, which can make sabre and foil quite confusing. You just have to hit your opponent before they hit you to score a point. Matches are first to 15, and the tournaments are typically knockouts.”
Despite her success at national level, Amy has faced struggles finding funding as fencing is a niche sport.
“Unfortunately, fencing has a very limited funding stream and what little we have is ring-fenced for a select group of athletes.
“Because I chose to come to a Welsh university, despite being an English athlete, I was dropped from a funding programme in 2012. Despite being British Junior number one and a world and European finalist in 2013 and 2014, I was not accepted onto British Fencing’s ‘talent’ programme and so received little support.
“I fully accept that funding is a privilege and not a right, but that doesn’t make things any easier.”
Amy is keen to pursue fencing full time and to compete more frequently on an international level. However, the lack of funding makes this a challenge, as travel costs are high.
“This year I have been selected to represent Great Britain at senior world cups in Brazil, China, Qatar, Italy and Hungary. Unfortunately, I have had to turn all of these down as I just can’t afford it – even tournaments in Europe cost around £300 for a weekend!”
For the moment, this limits how much time Amy can hope to spend on fencing after graduation. Her hopes rest on the British team’s success at the Olympics this summer, as it would improve the funding stream.
“In the future I would absolutely love to have the opportunity to train and compete full time to see how far I can progress.
“If fencing can win a medal in Rio then we will be in a much better financial position and this could become a reality. If not, the only way I could afford to do this would be to work and save up enough money to be able to go and train abroad for a year. It’s something that I wouldn’t rule out.”
The Under 23 European Championships will be held in Plovdiv, Bulgaria in May. It will be Amy’s first time competing in this particular tournament.