Michael Geary toasted his ‘crazy’ Hampshire Open fencing triumph and insisted: I only entered to practise.
The 21-year-old was crowned county champion in the men’s épée discipline for the first time last weekend at the Mountbatten Centre.
It was an achievement made all the more remarkable by the fact Geary finished 13th in the same event last year, having made the transition from foilist.
Indeed, a prior serious knee dislocation had threatened to curtail the former St John’s College student’s involvement in the sport.
But all of the hard hours in the gym were made worthwhile with his prestigious yet unexpected maiden open title win.
He said: ‘I have always wanted to win an open – it’s a goal a lot of fencers have.
‘To win one is a big step and a lot of people knew what it meant to me.
‘Everyone was congratulating me, it is a big milestone.
‘Going into the competition, I didn’t think I could get close – I was just going to keep in practise!
‘To win was crazy.
‘I didn’t believe I could do it.’
Ironically for Geary, his whirlwind épée success was triggered by Royal Holloway, University of London’s over-subscription of talented foilists.
Studying a masters in physics, Geary saw a potential opening in a new discipline and – injury aside – has not looked back.
He said: ‘There are three different fencing disciplines; foil, épée or sabre.
‘I started on foil which is the more classical one you learn to begin with.
‘But my team at uni had loads of good foilists and there was a gap in the épée team, so I tried out on épée to see how I could do.
‘I went to the Bedford Open and came eighth out of 60 so I thought: “I am pretty good at this!”
‘But I dislocated my knee soon after.
‘I hit the gym hard and exercised every day to build my legs back up.
‘Then I came to this competition last year and placed 13th which wasn’t great – it was just respectable.
‘This year was significantly better!’
Cheered on by family and friends, Geary – who began fencing at Academie d’Escrime as an 11-year-old – overcame the challenge of tricky Mohamed Awara in the semi-finals, 15-13, before claiming an emotional final win over Gavin Moulton by the same scoreline.
He said: ‘I am a pretty pessimistic fencer any way.
‘I still win when I think I am going to lose the whole time.
‘I had a really difficult semi-final and saw that guy fencing all day and thought he could beat me.
‘When I beat him, the final was a bit of a breeze compared to that.
‘I was really confident by that point!
‘It was great to have my girlfriend, mum, dad and uni friends down to see it – I usually don’t perform well under pressure.’
Geary’s aim at the start of the season was to crack the UK’s top 100.
Currently ranked 60, the talented fencer is now having to happily reassess his targets.
He added: ‘This has been a great end to the season.
‘My goal this year was to get into the top 100 and I am currently 60th before the Hampshire Open has been applied to my ranking points.
‘It will be a massive boost towards a top 50 place.
‘I will be going to national competitions and hopefully international competitions soon.
‘Maybe I won’t have to go to the Hampshire Open next year!’