Speak to any fencer, regardless of his/her weapon, and the name “Sergei Golubitsky” echoes in the fencing world as the name “Michael Jordan” does in Basketball or the name “Muhammad Ali” in boxing. Growing up in Florida and learning fencing, the maestro of our salle would always have Golubitsky’s “Golden Bouts” DVD playing, highlighting his three world championship gold medal bouts (1997-1999). As a fencer, Golubitsky was the rarest of the rare. His touches were eye opening, his footwork unmatched by his opponents, and yet, despite his competitiveness on the strip, Golubitsky exhibited a rare “joie de vivre” even during competition.
In his gold medal bout in the 1998 world championships, Golubitsky faced Elvis Gregory. Already with a yellow card in the bout, Golubitsky got tangled up in a corps-a-corps, much to the chagrin of Gregory. To avoid the red card in an already close bout, Golubitsky’s body language changed from fighter to that of a fun-loving big brother who had just rough housed with his siblings and got caught by mom and dad. He embraced Gregory and began petting his mask, and just like that, the humor of Golubitsky charmed the referee into not giving him a red card. (The video can be seen here!) Golubitsky would go on to write a wonderful book, titled Fencing is my Life which is a must read for any new fencer (Can be purchased here).
The fencing resume speaks for itself, but Golubitsky has already established himself as an elite fencing coach as well, coaching multiple Olympians (including his wife, Carolin), along with the German national foil team and others.
I am very pleased to share this interview with Sergei Golubitsky, who was gracious enough to sit down with me and impart some amazing wisdom. I certainly hope this isn’t our last encounter.
Damien Lehfeldt: You have coached your wife Carolin (and others) to many impressive results. Do you enjoy coaching more than competing, and do you ever have a desire to return to the sport competitively?
Sergei Golubitsky: I have worked as a coach since 1996. I used to work in many countries, with both women’s and men’s foil, with fencers of different ages and levels. Together with my pupils, I could share their national and international victories. But watching them fence, I catch myself thinking: God, it’s so good to be a coach! To tell you the truth, I have never ever had desire to return on the piste.
DL: Since your competitive days, the timing on the foil machines has changed, and the bib is now valid target. How do you feel about the changes to the rules and do you agree with them?
SG: I very much welcome the changes in foil. Actually, the collar of the electric vest already was a valid target, but it was covered by bib! And so, we saw a bit of a contradiction: the collar is a valid target by rules, but isn’t valid by overlap of the mask bib. Now the rule is just. As for the timing– the machine became sharper. There is less time given for speculations. The attack has to be a real attack and not a promenade.
DL: You have been noted as saying that you dislike bought or biased referees and that they take away from fencing. In the London 2012 Olympic Games, we essentially saw a referee hand over a victory in epee of all things (Shin A. Lam). In your opinion, how would you make referees more impartial?
SG: What happened with Shin A. Lam in London was a big tragedy! I was speechless. I have to say, Heidemann did everything in her power and more to deserve a victory in that bout, but Shin didn’t deserve to lose her medal this way either! What can I say; “human factor” was and always will be an issue. Only a heartless scoring machine or timers, stopwatches, and scales can deliver objective measurements. Human factor will cause mistakes and errors in all activities where a human being is involved. It’s sad, but it’s an unfortunate truth of fencing.
DL: One of the most difficult aspects of fencing is managing the stress associated with large competitions. Can you share with us some of the things you would do to calm yourself before competing?
SG: There are many routines that might help you to kill self doubt. Some of them are legal, some of them are not (drugs, alcohol). I know that mental training and psychological preparation helps some athletes. Music or simple chit-chat with friends before competing helps others. My simple recipe is:
- Have a good warmup routine.
- Have a good tactical plan for every opponent you face. Analyze each opponent and victory will come.
- Believe in yourself and believe in your victory.
DL: It has been noted that you were dealing with personal issues at the 2000 Olympics. While respecting your privacy, what advice can you give to other fencers about how to deal with personal issues while competing at such a high level?
SG: I had personal issues at the Olympics in Beijing as well (but different in nature). During that time, I was the national coach of German women’s foil team. A fencer from my team and the chief of the fencing delegation were behaving, least to say, “unprofessional.” Because of this development, we lost our silver medal in the team event. Later on, they blamed the defeat on me.
As for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, I’ll say this: One should do his/her best to separate the heart from the head. But I don’t think it is possible. We are human. Sometimes we are weak. There is a thing called “life” and we cannot run away from it.
DL: You obviously love fencing, hence the title of your book “Fencing is my Life.” What can coaches do to instill a love of the sport in their students and not take things too seriously?
SG: A coach has to be genuine and fair. He must truly love fencing and truly care about every student of his with no exception. He must be passionate. A true coach has to know what he is doing and why. He should not manipulate people and truth for his own benefit.
DL: What do you think is the proper way to coach a fencer during the 1 minute break in between direct elimination periods?
SG: Provide an express analysis. Give your student the do’s and don’ts (even though some say that it isn’t good to tell your fencer “do not do this, or do not do that”). Be sure to provide more positive feedback and information than negative. Try to make your fencer feel secure in himself. And lastly, try to give the last 10 seconds or so for the fencer to be alone with himself when it’s possible. He needs time to realize what was just told to him by his coach.
DL: You’ve had many of your bouts go to 14-14, most notably against Young-Ho Kim of Korea in your 1997 World Championship Gold Medal bout. When it’s 14-14, what would you do to mentally prepare for the final touch?
SG: You don’t prepare for the final touch! It is a process. The final touch is about experience and your own cool, developed after years of practicing your sport. Fencing, first of all, is a sport of decisions. You have to know what to do in the next moment, or you just follow your instincts. If you made the right decision, you’re going to win. Only then comes “know how”, performance, and technical realization. Let’s not forget about luck! We all need it. In foil one millimeter decides whether your hit is on or off target.
SG: This is still a country of many opportunities. The American dream is alive and well. I’ve made many new friends within a short period of time. Friends of different nationalities and races. I also love the climate of California. I hope that the best is yet to come!
DL: Thank you for your time Mr. Golubitsky, Christmas has come early for the fencing community!