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The blade pierced the brain. How a German fencer killed a Soviet athlete

Date: October 4, 2023 Time: 15:08:56

Sometimes tragedies in sports lead to revolutionary decisions in terms of changing the focus of the team. So, for example, helmets with a protective glass for the face came to stepper hockey, and a special helmet appeared in boxing. In fencing, protection requirements were revised after the death of Soviet foil player Vladimir Smirnov.

Vladimir was born in the Voroshilovograd region (now Luhansk). Smirnov took up fencing after trying his hand at football and basketball. He was discovered by a local section coach, after which Volodya forever connected his life with the rapier. In his hometown of Rubizhne, there were not many options for explosive development, but after moving to kyiv to train Viktor Bykov, the first serious results came.

Photo source: Soviet Sports Archive

At the age of 23, Vladimir Smirnov became the champion of the USSR, the title of which he held for three years in a row. Two years later, the athlete became the first in the Spartakiad of the Peoples of the USSR. Surprisingly, even such feats did not guarantee the athlete’s entry into the main international tournaments, because the selection for the national team was more serious than the fight for the world crown. In the Union at that time there were about a dozen foil fencers of the highest level. However, Smirnov withstood the competition to win world championship bronze along with the team in 1978. This was the beginning of a great journey.

In 1979 came the first international victory. And, again, the team championship, but with a golden tint. Our fencer won the same award in 1981. Real fame came to Smirnov in the year of the Moscow Olympics. In 1980, he won the individual competitions both at the World Championships and at the Olympic Games themselves, becoming the second foil fencer in the USSR to win gold in the individual championship (the first being Viktor Zhdanovich at the Olympic Games). 1960 in Rome) . To the victory, the winner added “silver” in the team foil and “bronze” in the team championship in épée fencing.

Photo source: RIA Novosti

In 1982, the turn came to go to the next world championship. At that time, Vladimir Smirnov already had a wife and two children. He was spending more and more time with his family and was less and less willing to participate in grueling workouts that made it impossible to spend time with his family. Smirnov had to be literally persuaded to go to the competition. But he was such a person, he could not refuse. Vladimir was able to convince the coaches that he needed to leave during the training camp for a day (at that time, in the USSR, this was unthinkable) in order to see his wife and children. As it turned out, the last time.

At the World Championship in Rome, the Soviet team fought against the German national team. The fights were tense. The German team was one of the leaders in European fencing. In the fight between Smirnov and the German Mattias Ber, everything went to the victory of our foil fencer, but during the duel, Ber broke his blade, hitting Vladimir in the shoulder. By inertia, a stump from a rapier struck the domestic athlete through the eye straight into the brain. The “blade” entered by 14 centimeters. Instant clinical death. Smirnov spent eight days in a coma, after which he died.

This tragedy led to a review of the quality of fencing uniforms. The equipment began to be made with a more durable material so that the blade could not pierce matter. The charge requirements on the tip of the rapier or sword have also changed. All these changes had a positive impact on the safety of the athletes, there were no more similar cases in fencing.

Puck Henry
Puck Henry
Puck Henry is an editor for ePrimefeed covering all types of news.

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