Five times Commonwealth Games medallist Keith Cook has masterminded the ground-breaking fencing spectacular to raise the fast-growing sport’s profile further in the Capital.
The gala event being held at Charlotte Square’s Roxburghe Hotel on November 24 will raise funds for junior programmes at Salle Holyrood – Edinburgh’s newest fencing school. It is the first time that world-class Scottish and Polish teams have duelled on British soil.
Cook, the 2010 British champion, is keen to transform Scotland into a centre of fencing excellence. He said: “Quite a lot of people have never actually seen fencing before. This is the opportunity to see it at its highest level.”
Poland’s national team – one of the best in the world – will include three-times World Cup winner Radoslaw Glonek and dual World Cup winner Pawel Kawiecki.
Cook will captain a Scotland squad that also includes fellow Team Great Britain member Ed Jefferies. The 31-year-old considers himself far from the archetypal fencer from upper class roots, having been brought up in Pilton, one of the Capital’s least affluent areas, by a single mother-of-three.
Cook was diagnosed as dyslexic at primary school and only fell into fencing by chance, rather than taking up boxing or football. That tough upbringing convinced him to start Salle Holyrood last year with the help of national fencing coach and former Scotland team manager Sean Walton.
The school has already attracted nearly 70 members ranging in age from seven to 60 to become Scotland’s fastest growing fencing club.
It has also launched a national hub for wheelchair fencing in a Scottish first, providing specialist equipment and coaching out of its West Edinburgh base at Holy Rood High School.
Cook said: “Fencing’s actually changed my life for the better. Not many people have had the opportunity from Pilton to try fencing. For me it was a life-saver really ... that’s why I started Salle Holyrood, to give people the opportunity and to go into schools and show them what can happen in a different sport as well. We’ve taught thousands of kids how to fence.”
Cook believes there are potential Commonwealth and Olympic champions amongst his pool of Edinburgh fencers competing at the gala night. No Briton has won an Olympic medal in fencing for 48 years.
Twenty-one-year-old rising star Callum O’Donnell, from Dunfermline, is one aspiring talent hoping to dazzle on the night. He will line up against Poland, but his greater goal is an appearance at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Cook said: “We have so many others that have the ability to do it. We’re just trying to channel them and trying to work with them to get the most out of their fencing.
“Fencing’s like a game of chess really. I know all the moves there are in chess, but it doesn’t mean I’m a good chess player.”
The fund-raising event on November 24 will include a three-course dinner, ceilidh and memorabilia auction.