Who was that coach of the 2012 Chinese women’s epee team? Some of us watching them win gold on Saturday got to wondering who is that tall gray eminence who was coaching the women? Turns out he is Frenchman Daniel Levavasseur, who has coached the women epee fencers since at least 2005, most recently at their training camp in Beijing. There is something quite remarkable about a foreigner who can go to China and work with Chinese to build a championship team.
At the end of their victory lap, the four Chinese women epee fencers embraced their Chinese coach, then came down from the strip and embraced Levavasseur, the five of them spinning in a dancing huddle, shouting “merci, merci.” Then the four fencers stepped back and in a line bowed to Levavasseur, saying again “merci, merci.” Their joy at winning was hardly exceeded by their outpouring of gratitude to the coaches who trained them to be champions, and it was not hard to imagine the months and years of grueling effort that intensified that emotion. All this took place with the score from Chariots of Fire echoing around them.
Later, when the team posed with their two coaches on the dais for a photo op, Sun Yujie jokingly held up her gold for Levavasseur, standing beside her, to bite – he mimicked taking a bite, and in their smiles and laughter it was not difficult to see the easy familiarity and affection between French coach and Chinese champions.
(No slackers themselves when paying homage to their coach, when the four women of the 2012 South Korean Women’s Epee Team, including Shin A Lam, posed for their photo op, they each removed their silver and hung it around the neck of their coach. The cameras zoomed in on the cluster of silver medals then panned up to the huge grin of the Korean coach embraced by his team of champions.)
Levavasseur accomplishments are many. From the website for his fencing academy “Fencers Without Borders,” Escrime Sans Frontieres, we learn (in French) that Master at Arms Levavasseur has been fencing and teaching for nearly forty years, and that his students have won numerous championships and medals in the Olympics and other world championships. He was coach of the French Team Epee from 1981 to 1989, and trained the double Olympic champion and triple world champion Laura Flessel, and the Italian champion Nathalie Moellhausen. “The athletes of Team Levavasseur [from St. Maur in France] have distinguished themselves in the biggest international competitions, including the…2010 World Championships in Paris and the silver medal of the Chinese Women’s National Team World Championships in 2011.” Lavavasseur’s Facebook page provides a resume of his background and other details.
Maya Lawrence, 2012 bronze medal winner of the American women’s epee team has trained with Daniel Levavasseur at Escrime Sans Frontieres in France and, in an interview, said “I love training with Daniel! He is an absolute genius! He is a level three Maitre [highest level] from France and he was the French men’s epee coach during the 80’s when they went on a huge run of medals. He has Olympic gold medalists and World Champions. He is a simply amazing coach! …Daniel’s philosophy is that we need to train with each other because we can learn so much from one another. Not only can we can learn fencing skills from one another, but also culture. When we travel to other countries for world cups, he recommends that we take in the museums and sights of the land so we are more rounded. These are the things that we will remember and the friendships that we develop from these excursions.”
The success of all his students in London is eloquent testimony to the extraordinary ability of the Frenchman Daniel Levavasseur to surmount the barriers of culture and communication and lead his Chinese team to victory, and to the intelligence and resolution of the exceptional women on China’s 2012 epee team.