Teresa Díaz and Iñaki Bravo, the future of fencing in Spain
Delicacy, precision, emotion, intensity… These are just some of the feelings that it conveys fencing. This Olympic discipline is thousands of years old, but its history as a sport dates back to the end of the 19th century, being one of the ten sports included in the program of the first Olympic Games held in Athens in 1896.
In fencing there are three modalities depending on the weapon used: épée, foil and saber. Each one of them has a valid target with a different headdress. For example, in an épée match, fencers can hit all parts of the opponent’s body with the point. While in foil only the trunk is allowed and in saber it is from the waist up.
Inaki Bravo and Teresa Diaz, both professional and specialized fencers in the saber and foil modalities, respectively, are part of the Podium Scholarship Program of Telefónica and the Spanish Olympic Committee. Both have been practicing this discipline since their childhood. Although their first connection with the sport was different for each of them.
In the case of Teresa, her mother passed on her passion for the foil, since she was a foil fencer and, later, became the coach of her current Cardenal Cisneros fencing club. She remembers that when she was little, her mother took her with her to the training center. So, “I grew up hearing and watching fencing“, bill.
For Iñaki, his connection to fencing stems from knightly books and movies. He confesses that as a child he always carried a sword in his hand. His parents soon saw his son’s eagerness for this weapon, so they decided to sign him up for fencing at a club where the saber modality was taught. It all started as a game in which Iñaki remembers with special affection when his parents bought him his first saber. “At that moment I thought: this is serious, it is not just another activity.”
Fencing: a minority sport in Spain
Despite the fact that, in recent years, the situation of fencing has attracted more people in 2019 there were about 7,000 federated people , it is still a sport that has low visibility. Above all, if we compare it with disciplines such as paddle tennis or triathlon that exceed 30,000 federated.
Both athletes consider that this sport needs greater diffusion. Teresa confesses that she, for a long time, was not a follower of social networks. She until she understood the great work that they do as a means to publicize her sport. «We complain that fencing is not talked about. Therefore, the best we can do is tell it ourselves.“, Explain. And so it has been. Since he began to make more use of these networks, he has received messages from people interested in practicing this art of defense and attack.
Unlike other disciplines, fencing is not a sport that allows its practitioners to make a living from it. Hence, many of these athletes combine their sports career with higher educational training. Iñaki has studied Aerospace Engineering and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Computational Mathematics. For her part, Teresa did Teaching and is now doing a master’s degree in Psychopedagogy.
For Iñaki this is vital because, «if the only thing you do in your day to day is fencing, it is very easy to become obsessed and get into an unhealthy loop“, mentions. For this reason, both they and other athletes decide to divide each year of their career in two with the aim of being able to meet their goals in a healthy way in both areas. Because as they explain, when one of the two parts – sports or studies – does not go well, it ends up affecting the other.
The female role in Spanish fencing
Between training sessions, competitions and exams, Teresa, together with María Mariño, Andrea Breteau and Bárbara Ojeda, constituted a Spanish women’s foil team. This feminine modality has little support. Thus, this team emerged without prior investment and with the passion of five foil fencers and the support of their families.
After a lot of effort, in 2018 they managed to put, for the first time, the women’s foil team in the top 8 in Europe. Being, the boost they needed to go to a World Cup. For it, they did a crowdfunding to be able to afford the flight, hotel, competition, etc., of the four. People showed them that they were by their side, helping them to meet one of their greatest challenges. Rising a few days ago as the 5th in Europe.
Podium scholarships and the possibility of competing in the Olympics
The little support that fencing has has led athletes to face two situations: leave the sport due to lack of support or go to another country where fencing has a greater number of resources.
This is the case of Teresa. She found it necessary to go to Italy, from 2020 to 2021, because there were no people in Spain to train. «I was preparing for an Olympic qualification alone«, he confesses. Thanks to the Podium Scholarship Program, of which he has been a part since 2021, he was able to afford to pay the rent in the Italian country to be able to continue fighting for his Olympic dream from there.
Meanwhile, Iñaki began to be part of these scholarships in his first year as an Absolute – category that succeeds the Junior , allowing himself to afford new material, competitions, etc. For him, this support came at a crucial time, since the change from one stage to another is very large. Unlike other sports where technical maturity is reached at 22 or 23 years old, in this one, it is usually around 28. Therefore, in that step from Junior to Absolute, in a competition there may be an opponent of 21 and another of 27, hence the difficulty of that transition.
So, being able to count on this financial support, plus the support of his parents and wanting to continue fighting for his dream of being an Olympian, made it possible for him, after that first year, to begin to notice that He was getting closer to his goal.
Next stop: qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics
These two fencers represent all those elite athletes who they fight to give visibility to their sport, in addition to fighting to be among the best. This last aspect is something that they are already achieving based on a lot of perseverance, a path of ups and downs, but, above all, of enthusiasm and passion for what they do.
Iñaki has been two time champion of Spain Junior in 2017 and 2018, three time champion of Spain sub23 in 2018, 2019 and 2020. In addition to having been 10 times Champion of Spain by teams and having obtained a 7th position in the Junior World Championship in Verona in 2018 This last competition has been the most beautiful for this fencer specialized in the saber modality. He remembers that when he lost it was a horrible feeling, but, “my parents came and being surrounded by them, by people who love me, made me feel very supported«, he confesses.
Sometimes it is enough to know that there is a person on the other side holding our hand when we fall. A special championship does not have to be one with a medal. Also, there are those times when they are aware that their fight is supported by many people.
For her part, Teresa, the first Spanish classified in the official ranking of the International Fencing Federation, champion of Spain sub23, etc., defines fencing as a sport that has taught her to solve problems, to keep emotions at the right level and to always fight for the objectives. Hence, one of her most special championships was her when she became champion of Spain for the first time in 2018. «That’s when I realized that if you work, the results come«.
Teresa and Iñaki’s future in fencing has only just taken off. They both have their sights set on the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“He who has a why can survive any how”