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War in Ukraine: battle between two former Olympic saber champions

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Fencing made swordsmen Stanislav Pozdniakov and Vadym Guttsait brothers in arms and close friends, but it was a real war, the one currently taking place in Ukraine, that separated them, perhaps permanently. After winning the team saber title together at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, after having been opponents on the fencing tracks, here they are at the head of their respective National Olympic Committees (NOCs): the Russian NOC since 2018 for Stanislav Pozdniakov, one of the greatest swordsmen of all time, the Ukrainian NOC since November 2022 for Vadym Guttsait, who is also Minister of Sports.

Since the attack on Ukraine by Russia, the two men do not clash with speckled foils. In September 2022, during a meeting in Moscow, Stanislav Pozdniakov declared, according to the Russian agency TASS, that “From the point of view of the Russian Olympic Committee, we citizens of this country consider service to the Fatherland an honorable duty, an honorable duty for all citizens, including members of national teams.”

The reaction of his Ukrainian counterpart was a little slow, but it was scathing. “He is my enemy, he supports the war, he considers it an honor to take part in the war against the Ukrainians, to kill Ukrainians, replied Vadym Guttsait in February during an interview with the Associated Press agency. (…) This person no longer exists for me. »

George Pogosov knows the two protagonists well. Head coach for twenty years of the fencing teams at Stanford University in California, he was their teammate during their Olympic coronation in 1992, conquered under the ephemeral banner of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), created on the rubble of the Soviet Union. George Pogosov is Ukrainian and, if he does not hide having “personal disputes” with Vadym Guttsait, he shares the latter’s point of view vis-à-vis Stanislav Pozdniakov.

“It was the war that separated them”

“What he said means that he supports the war against my country. I don’t want to hear from him anymore.”he says. In 1996, at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, George Pogosov had attended a first confrontation between the two men, but it was saber in hand. In the quarter-finals of an Olympic tournament he was about to win, Stanislav Pozdniakov won against Vadym Guttsait, with the narrowest score possible: 15 touches to 14.

This did not prevent a solid friendship from being sealed. There was a time when the two men were even business partners, George Pogorov believes. ” With [le fleurettiste russe] Ilgar Mamedov, they were like three brothers, it was the war that separated them”assures the French Christian Bauer, who was the coach of the Russian national saber teams from 2010 to 2019 and had been recruited by Stanislav Pozdniakov, then president of the Russian Fencing Federation.

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