IT’S been a year of staggering success for teenage fencing ace James Russell.
Since he was featured in the Observer just over a year ago, he has celebrated a string of impressive performances and results.
First it was off to Poland for Challenge Wratislava, one of the largest youth sporting events in the world with 213 competitors in his age group. At the time Russell, a Charterhouse School pupil from Petworth, was only 14 and was one of the younger members of the England under-15 squad.
In the round which establishes competitors’ seeding, he fought against a Belarussian, a German, an Israeli and two Poles, winning all his contests and being seeded equal fourth – the highest of the England fencers.
His won first elimination bout 15-8 was against a French fencer, then defeated a Russian 15-11. In the last 32 he beat a Polish boy 15-14, then triumphed over another Pole 15-13.
In the quarter-finals, he had an epic epee battle with the third-seeded Pole but after a repair to a loose sword blade, he lost – but could be proud of fifth overall.
After that, Russell kept busy chasing ranking points in three separate divisions: cadet (under-17), junior (under-20) and senior (adult), while preparing for his GCSE year. He has competed at all levels of his sport and fitted in matches for his school team.
Notable results in 2014 included sixth place in the GB cadet under-17 nationals and in the England Youth Championships, plus fifth in the Leon Paul cadet (U17) open. Wins followed in an elite epee tournament and the Canterbury LPJS.
In adult tournaments in 2014 he came third in the Brighton KCC senior open, sixth in the Hampshire senior open and seventh in the Brighton senior open.
It was becoming obvious Russell needed a personal coach and Britain’s three-time fencing Olympian, Professor Steven Paul, based in East Sussex, was recommended. He agreed to coach Russell and his influence has already started to show.
In September it was decided Russell should experience competition on the tougher European cadet circuit and was entered for the Turkish round in Ankara. This saw him face 63 of the toughest under-17s from all over Europe – he came 16th.
Russell fought in three GB under-17 cadet selection rounds and was ranked 13th. Soon he was invited to join the national U17 epee team to represent GB in tournaments in Bonn and Copenhagen.
He was also placed in the GB U17 team for the Coupe Danube tournament in Bratislava. He entered the top 100 in Europe, reaching an international ranking of 84.
All that left Russell ranked seventh in GB as an under-17 cadet, in the top 40 as an under-20 Junior and 61st as a senior (adult).
He will enter his main cadet year in September with a ranking of fourth in GB.
Dad Quentin said: “He’s worked long and hard for these results and enjoys the feeling of representing his nation in his sport. James has a great competition attitude and has come back from behind on a number of occasions – he just never gives up until a match is over.”
At the 2015 Public Schools Fencing Championships he won silver in the junior epee and came third in the Champion At Arms.
Russell gains a lot of experience by fencing seniors at open tournaments. His latest senior win was a bronze at Brighton, where he beat the GB No38 seed 15-12 then destroyed the GB No 47 15-3 before losing his semi-final 15-14 to a senior Italian international.
Russell fought at the British Youth Championships after qualifying with silver in the under-16 boys’ southern regional tournament. He hasn’t missed qualifying for the British event since he was 11.
He won his poule round in such a way he was seeded first for the national tournament as they went into the knockout rounds. Russell fought a string of great fencers and in the final he met the British No1 cadet who narrowly beat him.
After his GCSEs the national circuit begins again in July.
To continue to develop takes a lot of commitment from Russell and his family. They receive no funding from any national body and lost their sponsor a while ago.
The costs of fencing are not huge – it’s mostly petrol and hotel rooms – but Russell is 6ft 4in and needs regular kit updates, and his competition blades break. His coach’s time must be paid for as well.
They are looking for a new sponsor or group to help Russell achieve his full potential. For more, contact his father on Quentin_r@hotmail.com
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