March 2, 2017
Victory moment for 16-year-old Alan Temiryaev.
A disciplined but fun-loving sophomore at James Madison High School is setting records for fencing and laser-sharp focus — from the fencing academy in Coney Island to championships around the world.
In February, Alan Temiryaev, back from a debilitating knee injury, nabbed the Gold in the Junior Olympics in a spectacular and dramatic bout. And at 16 years old, he is one of the youngest to win the Junior (under-20) age category, beating out 301 competitors this year.
This young fencer has quite the accolade list already: The event, held in Missouri, earned Temiryaev a National Championship medal and locked his spot on the USA National Team to compete in the World Championships. (He already won two bronze medals at World Cups in Austria and France.)
The winning moment
Over the long day, Temiryaev faced many challengers in multiple bouts, including previous champions. But by the final match, both competitors were exhausted and cramping, said Temiryaev. “It was all about willpower. We were both tired, we woke up at 6am and it was 6pm already and competing for this last touch.”
Temiryaev started off this bout losing and couldn’t catch up — until the very last moment.
With just 20 seconds left and trailing 4-6, Temiryaev pulled out his skillful combination of touches and a unique perseverance and won in overtime seconds with a score of 7–6.
“They both couldn’t move anymore. Most people thought it was over. But he’s famous for bringing bouts back from bad situations,” said Coach Misha Mokretsov. “With Alan, I never know what’s going to happen!”
And Temiryaev was flying solo, since the final bout took place far from the coaches seating area. “The students cannot hear and you can coach only in the break. He was on his own. It was his own willpower,” he said.
A unique blend of strategy, confidence, and courage
Temiryaev has been fencing since he was 10 years old, under the tutelage of Coach Misha Mokretsov of Coney Island’s New York Fencing Academy.
“At first, I had no idea it would be this much fun,” Temiryaev told BKLYNER, detailing the skills for when to attack and how, using the different rules of each weapon. “It’s strategic and competitive, with discipline involved.”
“Most of the time I observe a fencer before I fence them, and if he’s aggressive I’ll use that to my advantage,” he said. “But sometimes, I react in the moment.”
Temiryaev loves to win but also sees great value in losing. “Last year at the nationals I lost to some crazy guy from the college level world team,” he said. “I got destroyed, but this year it was fun to realize I’m the one who’s winning in that age group.”
Coach Mokretsov saw something special in Temiryaev right away, he said. “He started like a regular kid, but in little less than a year he got second place at Summer Nationals for 10 and younger — which was surprising because he was a beginner,” said Mokretsov, whose Coney Island-based fencing academy (NYFA) has one of the strongest competitive epee programs in the country.
He attributes some of that to technique and skill, but even more so to mental strength.
“He managed to overcome pressure and scored complex actions, which requires fine execution and takes a lot of courage — even without pressure,” said Mokretsov.
“I’ve been coaching for 10 years and have had a lot of good kids,” said Mokretsov. “But usually they are tense when it comes to close bouts. But Alan does better under pressure. That’s what makes him unique. Many people can have a good day when it’s easy, but when you’re not having a good day — which happens a lot in our sport — it’s psychological, and opponent matches play a big role,” he said.
Before coaching, Mokretsov fenced on the Ukranian National Team and came to the US to attend St. John’s University on the NCAA team. “I still know how it feels to be an athlete,” he said. “And I love working with kids because they always raise my mood. They’re always positive and open to the challenge.”
Next, Temiryaev will travel with his coach, Misha Mokretsov, to compete at the World Championships in Bulgaria in April.
For young fencers, Temiryaev has this advice:
“Definitely keep trying no matter what. I lost so many times before I won.”