Max Hartung: From piste to podcast

The men’s sabre world no.2 took advantage of the closure of gyms and sports halls in Germany during the COVID-19 pandemic to work on his podcast series. The FIE spoke to Max Hartung about his experiences of hosting the podcast, and how it is helping both himself and his listeners during these uncertain times.

For many fencers, the answer to the unique challenge of staying active in lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic has been to devise improvised, and in some cases imaginative, home training routines – from weightlifting using chopped logs to living room workouts.

In Germany, Max Hartung came up with his own novel approach to keeping busy, sensing the pandemic as the ideal opportunity to develop his media projects, including a burgeoning podcast he co-presents with fellow German sabre athlete Matyas Szabo.

Titled ‘Demaskiert’ (‘Unmasked’ in English), the weekly series was launched in October 2019 and is currently on its 37th episode (at the time of writing). It is a comprehensive account of the pair’s experiences as top-level fencing athletes, from their preparations for the Tokyo Olympic Games to how they relax and unwind during downtime.

Staying connected

“Matyas and I started the podcast as a way for people to follow our journey to the Tokyo Olympic Games,” Max tells the FIE. “It's been a very exciting time. Then there were some specific episodes due to the postponement of the Games and the ongoing uncertainty of the COVID-19 situation. So it’s a mixture of a diary for ourselves and a tool to connect with people who are interested in our fencing.

“What we also did when the gyms shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic was to start recording some training videos, both for beginners and for those who already fence. We started posting these on YouTube in March.

“These videos provide training ideas for people who have to stay at home. We also learned a bit about filming and YouTube video cutting ourselves by making them.”

A focus on fencing

‘Demaskiert’ is available on several platforms, but attracts close to a thousand listeners on Spotify alone. Although the core listenership of the podcast is young people in the 23-27 age bracket, it is also proving popular with parents of children who fence due to its regular insight into the life of professional fencers.

“We get messages every now and then from people asking us to talk about specific subjects,” Max says. “Even before we started the podcast, Matyas and I found that we were really taking the time to reflect on issues, so we had episodes on motivation and fencing injuries where we did plenty of research.

“We get a lot of positive feedback, and my mum and dad listen in every week and tell me what they’ve learned from the podcast, which is of course very important!

“Lately we’ve started inviting guests onto the podcast, which is fun. They’re mainly people who are closely involved with us on our journey – our coach joined us for an episode, and we’ve also had our yoga teacher and our physio, as well as the German women’s foil fencer Anne Sauer.

“I think the current situation might have helped not only our listeners, but ourselves too. We really enjoyed recording the episodes and doing the training videos, particularly when there wasn’t much to do – I think it stopped me from going crazy while I was locked in!”

Living in the moment

While Max is proud of the work he has done on the podcast and training videos in lockdown, he looks forward to the day when he is able to return to the piste and resume his preparations for Tokyo.

Of course, he now has to wait another 12 months before he competes in Tokyo, and rather than derailing his plans to be in the best possible shape to challenge for a medal, he will be hoping the extra time granted by the postponement can serve as an opportunity to hone his fitness, form and technique even further.

Max is determined to savour the next year leading up to the rescheduled Games and enjoy his fencing to the fullest.

“Even before the lockdown, I felt like this season might be my last,” he concludes. “I adopted a motto, ‘enjoy fencing’, and this was my goal – even though it's hard when there's a lot of pressure and there are a lot of expectations from myself and from everybody else, I really wanted to go into the season enjoying fencing and competing with the best in the world.

“I'm trying to stick to this motto during the COVID-19 pandemic and to appreciate it more, because even though I can't currently fence against my teammates, I want to enjoy the training and have a good time while finding a solution I’m happy with for the next year.”

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