When people ask me why I love fencing, I like to tell them it’s because I wasn’t good at any sport with a ball in it! But joking aside, I love the head-to-head element of fencing and the fact you’re in charge of your own destiny. If you put in the work, you can get something out of it. It is really exact and there’s not much opportunity for cheating – it is just all about you and what you can do on the piste.
When I became men’s world champion in Epee last July, I surprised myself a little, though at the same time I knew that I had it in me to win any competition. Before the World Championships, there’d been a World Cup in Paris and I managed to finish third in the individual competition and I actually thought I could have won it so I just kept on doing what I'd done there.
The Worlds was like climbing to the top of the mountain. Almost everybody I know was there – apart from my sister, my whole family were watching along with my friends. Those World Championships in Budapest, for a lot of Hungarian fencers, meant the opportunity to become world champion in their home arena but I just put that aside and enjoyed my fencing. That was my key weapon that day and I’d say my performance in winning gold was my best ever.
It gave me a lot of confidence though there was a downside as all of a sudden everyone wanted to beat me in training and in competitions. It’s got better now, though, and I can deal with this pressure and just enjoy my fencing.
I grew up by Lake Balaton, the biggest lake in Hungary, and began fencing at the Balaton Fencing Club when I was seven years old. My coach there was Gyongyi Szalay. She was a seven-time world champion and the 1996 Olympic bronze medallist. We had almost 12 years together before I left for university in Budapest; tragically, she died just three months later.
It was under her that I gradually fell in love with fencing. Until the age of 14 I 'd say I just liked it but when we won the European Cadet Championships in Budapest in 2013, that was when I really started to think, ‘This is going to be my future’.
Gyongyi was special because she was passionate – no-one shouted the way she did when I won. It’s still in my ears now and I miss that very much. She was very determined and had the competitive mindset of all top athletes. That’s what I got from her from the age of seven – she gave me the feeling that I could take on anybody and it’s the best thing a young athlete can get from their coach.
Since I was 18, I’ve been training with Budapest Honved. I’m studying Sports Management at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest but will need a couple of extra semesters to complete my degree as fencing is my priority. Usually I have two or three training sessions a day. There’ll be physical training in the morning, then fencing in the afternoon and at least one fencing session at the weekend too. In a week I’d say I exercise 20 hours or more and there will always be little targets my team set me to accomplish each week.
The main physical training is about dynamics and speed on the floor. In fencing this is the most important thing: how to feel the floor, how to be fast on your feet. I have weight training, cardio, long runs, but before each fencing session we work on footwork. This is vital – when I won the Heindenheim World Cup in January I beat Park Sangyoung, the Korean fencer, in a one-touch bout in the final; it was very intense as Park is maybe the fastest fencer in Epee and I have to be able to do the same as he does.
It helps me to get pumped up by listening to rap music before a bout like that. It gets the aggression and the confidence flowing. At the Worlds last year, I was listening to Old Town Road by Lil Nas X before the bouts, and it was very good going out to that.
I do like peace and quiet sometimes, though. My family’s home on Lake Balaton is two hours from Budapest by car so when I have a free weekend, I like to go back there and breathe in the fresh air.
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