Barnet-born fencer James Davis says a forced change of outfit in the final of the European Championships turned the match in his favour as he claimed Britain’s first ever foil gold in the competition.
Davis, 22, was trailing Russian opponent Alexey Cheremisinov 10-6 when he was instructed to change his outfit as it was lighting up when he had not been hit on target.
“When you’re sweating, it makes your kit light up. It’s no fault of your own, you change your gear but the fencer hit me and we’ve got target areas to hit and that should have been off target but he hit me and it lit up.
“If it lights up, the referee has to give hit, so he actually gained a hit from it,” explained Davis.
“He was very sporting, straight away he knew he’d hit me off target. I changed my jacket and the referee made me go off the piste to change and that really helped me,” he admitted.
“It gave me the break I needed and I came back virtually a different fencer, it was like a new match for me. I knew I had to go for it.”
James took full advantage from that point and beat Cheremisinov 15-11 to claim a historic first foil gold at the European Championships for Britain.
“It was one hit after another and I thought ‘just get level’. I was knackered because I fenced the second fight [before] as well, so I only had a ten-minute break in between whereas he would have had half-an-hour. So it was a real, real difference,” Davis said.
“I was absolutely shattered but I thought ‘no, sod this, this is how I’ve got him, I’m going to keep going’ and it worked. I took the lead at 13-10 and I started to think ‘right, get the next one; he’s going to be under a lot of pressure’.”
Brit Gwendoline Neligan won European gold in 1933 but the event in Budapest was later re-classified as a World Championships, meaning Neligan’s medal was also upgraded as a result.
“I’m over the moon,” said Davis. “I’m knackered and I haven’t thought it through just yet. Yesterday [Monday] was all just hazy. I went to bed very late once I’d eaten but I think it will sink in more over the next day, probably when we get back, but it does feel so good; it feels great to be European champion.”
Being the first ever British winner of the foil gold at the European Championships only adds to the achievement, says Davis: “That tops it off – to be the first ever one. You dream of winning championships – every athlete does – but to make the history books is something else.
“To have that little bit of history that’s always going to be there, no-one can take that away from you.
“There can always be other Brits that win the Euros in the future but no-one can be the first one. I’m the first one and it’s just great. It’s just so special.”
Victory in the final follows two bronze medals in last year’s European Championships in Italy.
Davis – who relocated to San Francisco last year – will now rest before the start of the team event tomorrow (Friday), where he believes Britain’s youthful group can build on his gold medal.
“At the moment we’re tired – as is everybody who’s competed – so we just need to rest and we should be good. We’ve got Belarus first match, if we win that then we’ll have Russia, of course that’s the team we fenced last year for the bronze medal and we won.
“We’re a young team but we’ve been together a while now. The experience is there, we’ve got some tough matches to come but we want a medal, that’s what we’re here for and hopefully we can produce again,” enthused Davis.
“If you look at the top teams, like Italy, that team’s been together for a whole Olympic cycle and more. It’s what foundations are built on. You have to have trust in your teammates, you have to know what level they’re at so you can work with them.”