Kruse crest­fallen as medal slips from grasp in play-off

Bri­tish fencer edged out in bronze match Rus­sian ri­val booed by crowd

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - RIO 2016 - By Oliver Brown

Richard Kruse has a bone-dry sense of hu­mour. He was beaten, nar­rowly, in last night’s Olympic bronzemedal fenc­ing match against Timur Safin of Rus­sia, but he could com­fort him­self with a joke he had made be­fore the Games even started. For the irony of suc­cumb­ing to Safin was that he had mis­chie­vously said that he hoped the Rus­sians were dop­ing be­cause “it might make me feel bet­ter about los­ing to them”.

There was lit­tle doubt­ing his sta­tus as the crowd favourite at least, as Safin and every mem­ber of his Rus­sian sup­port team at­tracted loud boos for hav­ing the temer­ity to turn up. Ul­ti­mately, it was scant con­so­la­tion for Kruse, as Bri­tain’s wait for a first fenc­ing medal for 52 years con­tin­ued.

We can now count Kruse as defini­tively Bri­tain’s most renowned fencer since Bob An­der­son, who played Darth Vader in all the

Star Wars fight scenes. It marked a mo­men­tous evening, too, for his Pol­ish coach Ziemowit Wo­j­ciechowski, who ab­sconded from his home­land dur­ing the Cold War to coach the Bri­tish fenc­ing team and who first coached Richard as a child in north Lon­don 22 years ago. Kruse cred­its his men­tor with help­ing to lift Bri­tain be­yond “sta­tus as a third-world coun­try in this sport”.

Kruse has his ec­cen­tric­i­ties, too, with a fond­ness for play­ing the bag­pipes, an in­stru­ment that he once a week at his lo­cal scout group. Kruse’s limited Olympic pedi­gree, with a best fin­ish of eighth in Athens 12 years ago, had hardly por­tended such per­for­mance here. He ex­plained that he had suc­cumbed at pre­vi­ous Games to his anx­i­eties about the size of the tele­vi­sion au­di­ence watch­ing his every parry an thrust. But it is of­ten more dif­fi­cult sim­ply to reach the Olympics than it is to ad­vance to the medal po­si­tions once here. Bri­tain had needed to beat Ger­many in a play-off in Baku to earn their right to be in Rio in the first place.

Fenc­ing is not, by Kruse’s own ad­mis­sion, the most en­thralling or com­pre­hen­si­ble sport for the unini­ti­ated. They did their ut­most to jazz up the spec­ta­cle here at Rio’s packed Car­i­oca Arena 3, with disco lights and an in­sis­tent Eight­ies sound­track, but Kruse strug­gled to re­spond in kind in a one-sided semi­fi­nal de­feat. De­spite a promis­ing start, he was out­classed 15-9 by Alex Mas­sialas, the United States’ topranked foilist.

Kruse at­tributes his suc­cess in the sport to his skill at fus­ing the phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal di­men­sions. The de­mands on the body in fenc­ing can be im­per­cep­ti­ble to the un­trained eye, but the dif­fi­culty of con­stantly shift­ing one’s weight while wear­ing four lay­ers of pro­tec­tive kit are self-ev­i­dent. Kruse freely ac­knowl­edges that he would not win any prizes for ath­leti­cism alone, but his as­tute fenc­ing brain was to the fore yes­ter­day as he qual­i­fied for the semi-fi­nals with an im­pres­sive 15-11 win over Gerek Mein­hardt of the US.

Men­tal strength could not save him, alas, in his duel with Safin. In spite of a late ri­poste, win­ning three points in suc­ces­sion from 14-10 down, he fell 15-13 as Safin cel­e­brated with wild aban­don. Wo­j­ciechowski, watch­ing on from the side­lines, looked des­o­late. Fourth place is a bit­ter enough pill to take at any Olympic com­pe­ti­tion, but com­ing fourth be­hind a Rus­sian? Even Kruse, for all his droll jests, had prob­lems com­ing to terms with this. His per­func­tory hand­shake with Safin at the end spoke vol­umes. He un­der­stood the ex­tent of the op­por­tu­nity he had let slide.

Duel: GB’s Richard Kruse (right) against Alexan­der Mas­sialas, of the United States

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