Philip Marsh – Under 20 World Champion

Fencing Image
Image courtesy of Serge Timacheff and www.fencingphote.com

In April this year, Philip Marsh, a 16yr old fencer from Bath competed in the World Junior Championships for his sport in Jordan. Ranked 140th going into the competition and being 4yrs younger than many of his competitors, the competition was seen as more of a learning experience than anything else. However Philip surprised everyone, including himself by winning the entire competition and in the process became the first British World Champion at this level since 1976!

Going back almost 8 months to the inaugural British Fencing Academy (BFA) training camp in Nottingham and me along with 3 other strength & conditioning coaches designed and delivered an S&C framework for over 90 fencers and 50 coaches. This was a daunting task involving us having to learn about a sport we had very little knowledge of previous to the camp, have the athletes and coaches 'buy-in' to what we believed was the way forward for the sports physical preparation and then actually manage to deliver a level of training that could be taken forward by the athletes and coaches after the camp.

One of these athletes was Philip Marsh. We were alerted to Philip early in the camp by his coach from Bath Sword, Sue Benny. Philip's had long been ranked as one of the top, if not the top fencer in his age group and she had high hopes for what he could achieve in the future, however he had a serious history of injuries that had affected his ability to train consistently. To say Philip struggled with his mobility would be a slight understatement, however over the course of the week he made some progress and made an extra effort to discuss with us some specific injury issues he had and what could be done to alleviate them. As a group of coaches we all found him to be an extremely polite amiable guy, however we definitely were not sure how he would fare in the long term due to the amount of work that needed to be done, just to bring him back to a base level. At the end of the week we sent all the athletes off with the framework, along with videos and explanations of the exercises and crossed our fingers that a few of them would work on them before we saw them next.

I next saw Philip between Christmas and New Year at the Great Britain Under 20 Epee training camp in London. Ed Baker (one of the other S&C Coaches for the BFA) and I were there to deliver more S&C training as well as perform physical testing on the athletes. Philip had improved his performance on the speed and jump tests we run on all fencers; however it was when we came to test his movement capacity that he really shocked us. In the main test, an overhead squat, Philip proceeded to drop straight into a seriously improved squat from the one we saw in Nottingham 4 months before. After talking to him it became apparent he had been working extremely hard on the stretches and exercises we had prescribed to him and as a result he was moving much better. Again he came to us individually with questions relating to his own personal training and circumstances.

Philip Marsh Image

Finally I was able to see Philip one last time before he flew out to Jordan at his home fencing club in Bath. I had been invited to do some work with Bath University Fencing Club and was subsequently invited to observe a Bath Sword training evening, which is no small operation based on pure numbers of athletes and coaches! Philip was there again so whilst he waited for his age group to start training I spoke to him for a while about his training and about his upcoming tournament in Jordan (which was about 2 weeks away at this point). Philip told me he was feeling excited and confident going into the competition due to being able to train more consistently in the build-up than usual. Although he had not had a fully injury free year, he found that many of the smaller more niggling injuries he normally gets had not been an issue. We talked for about 30-40 minutes in all and as always Philip was polite and came with some intelligent questions about his own training and preparation for the upcoming tournament.

Importantly, this article is not a claim to a share of the glory that comes with Philips tremendous result in Jordan. All of that goes to Philip himself and his coaches Sue Benny, Tim Marsh and the rest of Bath Sword (sorry I'm not sure of all of your names). However I think it does show the value of an athlete, no matter what age they are, taking an intelligent and professional approach to their sport can experience success. Philip is obviously an extremely talented fencer, however he had some serious mobility issues that could have affected his ability to train and competes at the level he is capable of, or at the time he needed to. Philip recognised this and made a concerted effort to improve this facet of his training, was this difference between him winning the Gold in Jordan or not, who knows! One thing is for sure though; Philip's a great athlete and definitely one to watch as he progresses. London 2012 has come too soon for this young guy, however with his attitude I wouldn't be surpris ed to see him in Rio, 2016 or wherever the 2020 Olympics get allocated.

Congratulations Philip, from the BFA Strength & Conditioning team!