Azerbaijani fencers working their way back to the top

Baku, June 16, AZERTAC

While Azerbaijan was part of the Soviet Union, fencing was a popular sport among Azerbaijanis and even produced two Olympic champions, Ilgar Mammadov in 1988 and 1996 and Boris Koretski in 1988.

But the Soviet Union collapsed and so did fencing in the region. Ten years ago the sport slowly started to pick up again, but a major step forward was taken only when Baku held the junior and cadet world championships in 2010.

The country now has about 150 hobby fencers and 50 athletes, largely thanks to the personal initiative of national coach Fikret Valiyev (AZE).

“We go to secondary schools to promote fencing and show photos of our fencers to get the kids interested in fencing,” Valiyev said. “But the problem is that the fencing is neither popular nor is it well-developed in Azerbaijan. We are really in need of proper facilities.

“Every time parents take their children to training for the first time, they would say: 'Oh my goodness' and quickly take their children out of the club again. The lack of facilities really pulls the sport down,” Valiyev said ahead of the fencing competition at the Baku 2015 European Games at the national team’s training venue.

The training centre in a small village a 30-minute-drive from downtown Baku is housed in a former Soviet culture palace that has seen better days.

Despite the poor training facilities, Valiyev eyes a medal for at least one of his fencers at the Baku Games.

“Our fencers take part in the Olympics and world championships and they even win competitions every once in a while, and we are considered one of the stronger teams in Europe," the coach said.

“So I think at least one of our fencers will take a medal. Our hopes on are Sabina Mikina, a 2012 Olympian, and Sevil Bunyatova,” Valiyev said.

Mikina, 27 and Bunyatova, 25 will compete in the sabre individual and team events on 25 June and 27 June in Crystal Hall 3.

Bunyatova is not only keen on achieving a top result.

“My aim is to make fencing the No1 sport in Azerbaijan,” she said.

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