By: Lori Ewing – February 7, 2020

Igor Gantsevich’s first World Cup experience wasn’t remarkable for any success on the piste, but it was certainly memorable – and a lesson in the benefits of exposure to the best on the planet.

Gantsevich laughed at the memory of his first World Cup on Canadian soil.

“I was like a deer in the headlights,” he said.

It was 2004, and the 15-year-old Gantsevich idolized Russian star Pavel Kolobkov, an Olympic and world champion.

“He was like the Wayne Gretzky of fencing,” Gantsevich said. “He was walking around in the fencing gym and bouncing his tip on these little ping-pong dividers. And his accuracy was just insane. So I was walking behind him trying to do the same, and looking like a fool.

“I’ll never forget that, my idol walking around. Fencing is not like in hockey or basketball where it’s very hard to approach these guys. You can go ‘Hey buddy, let’s warm up together.’ That was so special.’”

Four years later, Gantsevich was on the team that captured Canada’s first World Cup medal in history in team. The team also won the Pan American championships.

Gantsevich knows many more young fencers will be similarly inspired when the Richmond Olympic Oval hosts the Peter Bakonyi World Cup, Friday through Sunday.

The World Cup, which is the only epee World Cup in North America and one of five worldwide, will bring more than 200 of the world’s top fencers to Canada.

Gantsevich sees a parallel in hosting the World Cup on home turf, and the growth and success of both the Dynamo Fencing Club – his dad Victor is the head coach, and he is the head of youth development programs – and fencers across Canada. Dynamo captured 21 medals, including nine gold, at the recent Canadian championships.

“I can definitely say the World Cup is one of the inspiring factor for our kids, because they see these world stars competing,” Gantsevich said.

The event sprouted from a friendship. Peter Bakonyi immigrated to Canada from Hungary in 1957. He competed in the 1968 Olympics for Canada, and his sons Ron and David would go on to fence for Canada.

“It’s a sport that gets into you, into your veins, into your blood,” said Ron Bakonyi, who’s the president of the B.C. Fencing Association. “We grew up with the sport, I grew up in the gym. . . Everything was about fencing in our family.”

Peter, who was instrumental in developing the sport in B.C., also helped the Gantsevich family immigrate to Canada in 1996.

Peter, who exercised daily, died suddenly of a stroke in 1997 at the age of 64. Among the descriptors on his gravestone: family man, husband, sportsman.

“Sportsman is on there because that was him,” Ron said.

Vancouver hosted the Peter Bakonyi World Cup from 2004 to ’06, but the event couldn’t get a firm foothold on B.C.’s Lower Mainland as a permanent fixture.

But in 2013, Viktor Gantsevich got a call from the world governing body for fencing saying the annual World Cup in Stockholm was struggling. Would he be interested in hosting the World Cup? Oh, and by the way, it’s in three months.

“My dad, without even hesitating, goes ‘Yeah definitely,’” Igor said with a laugh.

The event was named after Bakonyi in 2014, because “he’d been an inspiration to our community, and I try to continue his legacy, and we try to make the best for the next generation,” Igor said.

When he met with his young U17 national team members about competing at this year’s World Cup, he conjured those feelings of being a kid and competing against the best in the world.

“I told them what I went through and how it inspired me,” he said.

Dave Callaghan, co-chairs with Igor of the World Cup’s organizing committee, said the benefits of hosting the event at home benefits dozens of athletes. When Stockholm hosted the event, Canada could only send four fencers. As hosts, Canada is permitted 20.

“And our athletes get to see the best in the world, they can aspire to something, like Wayne Gretzky was with Tim Horton. When you see the best in the world, that’s the bar,” said Callaghan.

Callaghan was a pitcher on Canada’s national junior baseball team, but got involved in fencing through his son Nolan, who competed for Dynamo.

A few young fencers will “get their backsides handed to them” at the World Cup, he said.

“But when you look across and there is (Yannick) Borel from France, the world champion, Olympic champion, and you get to fence with him, that’s second to none,” Callaghan marveled. “This is legit. These athletes would never get to see or feel or sniff this type of intense competition, these people are rock stars in their countries. Max Heinzer (of Switzerland) has got like a million followers on YouTube.”

They might be global stars in their sport, but they’re also accessible, said Ron Bakonyi.

“They sign the kids T-shirts, and like any sport, when you have a T-shirt with the signature of the champion, it become something special, like a poster on their wall,” he said. “The athletes are all a really big part of it for the young people, and they can becomes: ‘I can see this person is normal, if I work like he does, I can be like him.’”

Bakonyi said his dad would have been bursting with pride to see both the growth of the sport in B.C., and how hard work has kept his dream alive.

“I can’t even explain it to you,” Bakonyi said on a recent phone call. “I actually got a shiver on my skin thinking of how he would feel, because he was a very outgoing and talkative person, everything to him was the best, he was always positive about everything.

“I think this would have exceeded any of his dreams. The feeling I just got when you asked me the question, I just had a smile on my face. I know he would be over the moon.”

Tickets are $20 each, for general admission over all three days Feb 7-9, available at the door or can be reserved online. Each general admission includes up to 3 accompanying children or teens under 19.

2020 Schedule / Horaire

2020-02-07 – Individual / individuel
09:45 Opening Ceremonies / Cérémonies d’ouverture
10:00 Poules

2020-02-08 – Individual / individuel
10:00 Top 64 / Tableau de 64
14:00 Team table publication du tableau des équipes
15:40 Quarterfinal (top 8) / le quart de finale (tableau de 8)
17:00 Ceremony and semifinal / cérémonie et demi-finale
18:00 Ceremony and final / cérémonie et finale

2020-02-09 – Team / équipe
9:00 Top 32 / Tableau de 32
11:40 Quarterfinal (top 8) / le quart de finale (tableau de 8)
13:00 Semifinal and bronze medal match / demi-finale et match de médaille de bronze
15:30 Ceremony and final / cérémonie et finale

Legacy of World Cup seen in the future of young Canadian fencers