Skip to main contentAccess keys helpA-Z index

BBC Sport Olympics

Last Updated: Thursday, 29 March 2007, 09:50 GMT 10:50 UK
Fencer's 'duel' role
By Mark Barden

Jon Willis knows a bit about fences because of his job at the Stockport branch of DIY giants B&Q.

But he knows an awful lot more about fencing, and has his sights set on epee success at the 2012 London Olympics.

Jon Willis. Photo by Graham Morrison.
Willis believes he will be at his peak for the 2012 Olympics
The 26-year-old recently became the first British fencer to win a World Cup event since 1981 at the Heidenheimer Pokal in Germany.

Prior to his surprise victory, his best result as a senior at a major competition was 32nd at the 2001 World Championships.

"I was shocked when I won, and I still don't think it's quite sunk in yet," Willis told BBC Sport.

The B&Q reference is more than just a cheap gag in this instance as the company is actually helping Willis to pursue sporting glory.

He is one 11 young "aspiring Olympians" competing in various sports who B&Q employ and sponsor.

That backing means Willis can more or less train full-time and travel abroad for major events.

"I work as a customer adviser in the trade department, so I could tell you how to plaster but I couldn't do it myself," he said.

I'm contracted to work 12 hours a week but if, for example, I have to go for a training week in Germany, they give me the time off."

Willis's Olympic dream has been further boosted by the launch in January of British Fencing's new Olympic Pathway Programme.

Jon Willis in action. Photo by Graham Morrison.
It's not that 'minority' because so many people I speak to seem to have had a go or know someone who has

Jon Willis defends fencing

The ultimate aim of the scheme, funded by UK Sport, is to secure Britain's first Olympic fencing medal since 1964 at the 2012 Games.

"In men's epee, fencers tend to reach their peak in their early to mid-30s, so the London Olympics will be exactly right for me," Willis said.

"Qualifying for Beijing in 2008 isn't impossible but it's 50-50 at best - it's probably about two years too soon for me.

"Europe happens to be the hardest region to qualify from, so I'm going to need a few more good results and a bit of luck to get to China."

Fencing has been part of every Summer Olympiad since the Games were revived in 1896.

Some would argue that a sport with its roots in duelling among aristocrats no longer deserves its place in the modern Olympic programme.

Elitist? Anachronistic? Not according to Willis.

"Fencing is part of the Olympic tradition itself, and just because it's not that popular in this country doesn't mean it isn't elsewhere," he said.

"My final in Heidenheim was on live on German TV and it got a lot of newspaper coverage. When I went out to celebrate, people wouldn't let me spend my money.


"As for it being elitist, well, I went to a comprehensive school and my dad's a postman."

He admits, though, that fencing is a sport that needs a measure of perseverance among beginners - especially children.

"Anyone can go down the park with their friends and kick a ball about, play cricket, go running, but it takes about six months to become competent at fencing.

"For a couple of months, most people can't stand in the en garde position and co-ordinate their leg movements properly. Sadly, some kids just get bored with it.

"But it's one of those sports where people you can be all shapes and all sizes.

"Obviously it helps to be fit, but there are international fencers who you would not describe as athletic and yet their technical ability and timing are second to none."

Willis began fencing at an after-school club aged 12 and won five British junior titles in various age groups before joining the senior circuit.

He still lives in Stockport but is looking to move to London under the Olympic Pathway Programme to train at the British Fencing Elite Training Centre.

A strong team ethic is, Willis believes, key to future British Olympic success.

"I was in Germany for the week with three other guys and by the end of it we we'd become a pretty solid unit," he recalled.

"We competed in the team event and only lost to Italy by three points. It was pretty much their 2000 Olympic-winning line-up but we pushed them right to the wire."

Having already made his mark on the world scene, Willis is convinced he can only get better as he matures.

"Skill, technique, timing and fitness are a big part of it, but experience makes up a massive amount of my sport," he said.

"I've been on the senior circuit for seven years but I'm learning things every time I fight."

Fencer Willis grabs World Cup win
26 Mar 07 |  Other sport...
Kruse wins fencing silver for GB
06 Jul 06 |  Other sport...


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Daily and weekly e-mails | Mobiles | Desktop Tools | News Feeds | Interactive Television | Downloads
Sport Homepage | Football | Cricket | Rugby Union | Rugby League | Tennis | Golf | Motorsport | Boxing | Athletics | Snooker | Horse Racing | Cycling | Disability sport | Olympics 2012 | Sport Relief | Other sport...

Help | Privacy & Cookies Policy | News sources | About the BBC | Contact us