Assessing Tactical Changes from Bout to Bout—a case study in Gergely Siklosi and Sangyoung Park

Part 1: The Heidenheim World Cup

When 2016 Rio Olympic Champion Sangyoung Park (Korea) and 2021 Tokyo Olympic Silver Medalist Gergely Siklosi (Hungary) met in the gold medal bout of the 2020 Heidenheim World Cup, it might have been mistaken for a Sabre bout. In a 15-14 thriller, Siklosi narrowly edged out his opponent, but entering the 2nd period, you could sense a certain level of discomfort as Siklosi couldn’t fence the bout entirely on his terms. It was a bout in which Sangyoung Park turned on a dime aggressively and pulled Siklosi away from his preferred counter-offensive style.

Let’s look at that bout below:

Bout Summary:

  • The first period ended 5-5 tied with an average of 20.12 seconds per touch. The second period, Park comes out swinging like Mike Tyson and goes into full YOLO mode, and for the remainder of the bout, the fencers average 6.83 seconds per touch. It works for Park at first. He gets the first four touches in a row of the second period before Siklosi realizes his preferred counter-offensive game isn’t going to work with a bout being fenced this quickly.
  • Siklosi pushed for 65% of the bout to Park’s 35%, and when it came to attack initiation, Siklosi initiated the attack 54% of the time to Park’s 46%.
  • Park held the lead for 12 touches, and Siklosi for 6 total touches. They were tied for 8. But most importantly, once the score hit 10-10, Siklosi didn’t cede the lead for the remainder of the bout. Oh, and once it hit 10-10, it turned into a slugfest. The remaining 9 unique touches in this one averaged 3.22 seconds per touch. Even right at 14-14, it was an attack of the line for Siklosi.
  • No surprise with the breakdown of tempos given these fencers’ preference for direct attack, but Park hit 8 one-tempo actions and 3 two-tempo actions. Siklosi hit 9 one-tempo actions, 2 two-tempo actions, one remise.
  • This is a fine case study in well-timed counterattacks. Both led with 5 apiece, followed by direct lunge as the 2nd most preferred action.

Part 2: The Olympic Top 8

Note: Tokyo Olympic Bouts are not on YouTube, so I was unable to share the Siklosi-Park bout from Tokyo

The Heidenheim World Cup occurred in January of 2020. Then, a certain global pandemic happened, and Fencing was put on hold for a moment. The Tokyo Olympics were delayed a year, and it would be another 562 days before these two would meet again.

As fate would have it, Park and Siklosi would meet once again in the quarterfinals of the Tokyo Olympics.

Entering this bout, it was clear that Siklosi had the following objectives:

  • Push and pressure on his terms, disrupt, and prevent Park from going into “sabre mode.”
  • Reduce the number of responsive actions and be more proactive in the attack
  • Continue with unrelenting pressure on Park—even after a lead is secured

And fulfill those objectives, he did. Noticeable changes going into this bout for Siklosi included:

  • A drastic increase in push % compared to Heidenheim (In Tokyo, he only allowed Park to push him on two touches—and both of them were in the box. Not once did Siklosi retreat to his end of the piste)
  • Siklosi was far more comfortable in the multi-tempo game in Tokyo, where he actually finished with more two tempo actions (5) than direct/one-tempo actions (4). Siklosi is only doing a multi-tempo finish 36% of the time, so while out of his typical comfort zone, he was finding ways to win with a feint disengage lunge, often into Park’s advance into distance.
  • Siklosi went away from responsive actions almost entirely in Tokyo, going from 5 counterattacks to 0 (though he did have two parry-ripostes).
  • By applying constant pressure and not allowing Park much room to prepare, Siklosi was able to go above his typical average of 17.4 seconds per touch (18.38 seconds in Tokyo) and make Park far more hesitant to attack (Park averages 16.53 seconds per touch, and that was driven to 20.36 in Tokyo).
  • Park and Siklosi entered the 3rd period with Park leading 10-9, and Siklosi went on a 6-2 tear to win—initiating the attack on 6/7 remaining touches.

Moral of the Story:

Park and Siklosi are two of the world’s best. On Siklosi’s best days, he prefers to pull and play the counter-offensive game, pulling to his side of the strip and attacking into his opponent’s preparations. This was his primary strategy in Heidenheim, and it ended in a 15-14 nailbiter in which he had little comfort in the bout.

But the best in the world are willing to go out of their comfort zones bout to bout, make subtle changes to their strategy and drift out of their areas of excellence. The adjustment that Siklosi made on Park in Tokyo, in going from a counter-offensive to a cautiously offensive game is a prime example of why strategic versatility is so important bout-to-bout.

When facing your biggest rivals, forget the previous bout, because tomorrow is another day and every bout can be different from the last.

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