Longtime fencer and Jackson County resident Bruno Goossens racked up one of his biggest career wins just in time for his 71st birthday. He returned at the end of October from Maribor, Slovenia as a Veteran Fencing World Champion with the U.S. men's épée team, hauling home two gold medals and additional bragging rights.
Though he hails originally from Algeria and later, France, Goossens has a strong desire — a "passion," he calls it — to encourage a steadily growing tide of U.S. fencers who can not only compete but also win on a global stage. So in addition to continuing his own pursuits as a fencer, he also has taken on more mentoring roles as a teacher and referee.
"Fifty years ago, when you had to fence American fencers, it was a joke," Goossens said. "Now this is a big, big thing."
U.S. fencers hold top 10 rankings in the men's saber and men's and women's foil categories of the International Fencing Federation, which is a smaller presence than other countries, mostly Europe. Goossens, because of his age, qualifies for the Veteran Fencing circuit, for fencers over 40. At the Veteran Fencing level, the United States is gaining international prowess. The women swept the team competitions for foil, épée and saber categories at the World Championships. The combined national team won the medal count, topping runner-up Germany 18 medals to 16.
This is far from Goossens' first foray into international competition in his long history with the sport. He started fencing while training as a pentathlete in France when he was a young man in the 1960s. In pentathlon, athletes compete using the mid-sized épée weapon, which he continued to fence with the rest of his life. He showed Olympic potential as a young athlete, but passed on an opportunity to train for the Olympic team in 1968 in order to pursue a medical degree.
Later in life, he said, he wished he had tried for the Olympics. Now, however, he's turned the memory of that decision into insight that he can pass on to the next generation of U.S. fencers.
"It's what I tell the kids today: If you have the possibility to go, you should go, because you can always come back to the studies," he said. "Because once your peak form is over, it's over."
Goossens' peak fencing form may be behind him, but his investment in the sport is only growing. He travels all over the world not only to compete, but also to referee fencing matches. He reconnects with former students and competitors there.
"You have people you know, and you can go anywhere in the world because it’s not a very big community," he said.
He also teaches fencing lessons Friday nights at the YMCA in Ashland with a few other instructors that he has trained with. Their efforts to keep a regular training regimen for higher-level fencers, however, has been disrupted several times over the years by changing locations. The group previously practiced at the Elks Lodge, for example, before the building went up for sale in 2015.
Still, Dylan Shelton, who leads the classes at the Y, said the interest in fencing must be there. The Rogue Valley has notably attracted several "fencing masters," whose credentials can include a degree certification from the Classical Academy of Arms.
"I think people will discover that the fencing here is really world-class," Shelton said.
It would be hard to argue with him while Goossens flashes both gold metals for the camera.
To find out more about fencing at the YMCA, visit its website at http://ashlandymca.org/Page.asp?NavID="207" or call 541-482-9622.
— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-776-4497.