The boys stood huddled together, mouths agape, momentarily stunned in awe of what was in front of them…
They had just turned the corner into the sprawling Hala Orbita, a massive sword fencing hall where over 200 children were already competing, creating a vibrant atmosphere of strenuous activity with blades clashing, scoreboards buzzing and competitors trying their best to score the next hit.
“This is…….is…..AAAAAWWWESOMME,” H finally managed as T and J nodded in agreement, jointly whispering “it’s incredible!” So began their Challenge Wratislavia adventure……
An alarm had woken them up rather early (3am) on the Wednesday morning to catch their flights to Wroclaw, Poland, flying in from Birmingham, Bristol and Stansted. Unsurprisingly it was the first time they had checked in swords and fencing equipment as well as their usual luggage! A quick two hours later saw them arrive in Wroclaw and transfer to the Scandic hotel in the city centre where everyone was staying. We dropped off our luggage, had a quick drink and snack before it was off to explore…….
T said “It’s such a fun adventure exploring somewhere for the first time and also experiencing different food. I tried some Polish doughnuts which had all kinds of fillings from savoury to sweet ones. My favourites included kinder chocolate, blueberry and strawberry ones with fresh strawberries on the top. Each one is the size of an adult’s head so they are very big and really filling – no more food needed until dinner!”
J continued “We spent a lot of time exploring the large and busy market place, with its colourful buildings and history. It really comes alive at night with lots of people milling around. T and I saw these really cool mini-parachutes which children launch in the air with a catapult and then try to catch the parachutes as they fall to the ground. When we were playing with them, we saw a massive shop called the Sweet Factory which was really good, giving us the energy we would need once competition started”.
The next day, was the girls’ epee competition and with no-one from our group competing, meant we had another day to explore the city. Wroclaw has a very good tram system, so H took the tram to Hydropolus, a science centre dedicated to all the different uses for water. He said “It was cool going on a tram as you get to see a lot of the city really close up and I hadn’t been on one before. Hydropolus was a cool exhibition and a good way to spend a few hours. Afterwards we went dwarf spotting, which was fun”.
With T and J competing in the epee the next day we had a quiet evening and were early to bed ready for our first day of competition. Challenge Wratislavia has been going for 45 years, having a great tradition and becoming a meeting place for young fencers aged 15 and under from all over the world. We saw fencers from Israel, India, Romania, USA, Hungary, Egypt and many more countries.
Once we arrived at the hall, we were given a poster and mask sticker showing which number competitor each of us was that day. It’s really cool knowing my mask will always show I competed at Challenge Wratislavia. Once we had gotten over just how big the arena was and how many children were fencing, we found ourselves a base in the tiered seating, got our kit on, calmed our nerves and Neil gave us warm up lessons. Competition is fierce where every hit counts and at this competition, one third of competitors are cut after the first round – it’s really tough.
We both won fights and scored hits in every bout, though nobody went past the last 64 round of competitors. I was really pleased I got to fence on piste number 1 which is a raised area in the centre of the hall where the grand finals take place. Check out some of our photos – we are really in the competitive zone…….!”
F takes up the story “I woke up feeling ready to compete – slightly nervous yet excited at the same time. A hearty hotel breakfast helped me take my mind off things though like H, J and T, when I arrived at the hall I felt quite overwhelmed, as the place was huge and there were fencers and people everywhere.”
My U13 pool was on piste 12 and my challenge began. The adrenalin was flowing as I knew I had bouts against boys from Poland, Croatia and Germany. Over the next hour I scored several victories, and always got hits in defeat though it was a nervous time to see if I had made it through to direct elimination. The results confirmed I had and I was to fence in my first DE, however it was to be against a left-handed member of the Hungarian national squad. I scored hits and gave him a few problems but he had greater experience than me. I tried my best, had fun and know what international fencing is all about!
The story was the same with the U11 boys, where the aim is always to try your best and see how it works out. H was thrilled to learn that he made the cut.
He said “The thrill did not last for long though, for my first eliminations round was against the no.1 seed from USA! This boy was undefeated and had won all of his pool rounds 4-0. However I was determined to get at least one hit. We moved to piste 3 and two of my peers came to watch and encourage me. It was a tough match, which I lost, but was happy as I gained three hits which was a huge confidence boost. I felt even better when I learnt I scored the most number of hits against him until he reached the quarter final!”
Sadly, no one made it past the last 64 but everyone was happy with their performance and it was some consolation that the u11 boys foil this year was won by a Brit! Equipped with t-shirts, new fencing kit and bags, we all contentedly made our way out of Hale Orbita and back to the Scandic for another night out together before catching our planes back to the UK the following day.
Over to the boys to finish their story off……
“We learnt a lot from this epic experience and will never forget our first international tournament representing GB. It was an amazing few days and the fencing was incredibly enlightening – we are already looking forward to returning to Poland in March 2024 with hopefully more Hatherop fencers coming to join us. Finally, on behalf of all your fencers and their parents, we’d all like to say a massive thank you to our coach, Neil Bromley for his support and making this possible”.