Denmark’s only Olympic fencer … is a Brit

Following the highs of competing in a home Olympic Games, fencer Laurence Halsted, 31, experienced a level of fame previously unknown.

A host of opportunities were presented to the Copenhagen resident, who will be representing his country in Rio, including the chance to feature in a music video for the band Two Spot Gobi!

But despite this, Halsted doesn’t fancy himself as the next Chris Waddle, although the two have more in common than musical ability.

In Denmark since 2013
Just like Waddle, Halsted moved abroad to explore different opportunities, moving to Copenhagen with his fiancé in 2013, where he swiftly settled into the Danish way of life.

This came after Team GB had been eliminated at the semi-final stage of a major tournament, just like Waddle’s England team in 1990.

Waddle famously came out of semi-retirement for another shot on numerous occasions, and Halsted too – after taking a break from international competition for over a year – made a return to professional sport, so once again the tale of the two sportsmen share something in common.

Defied the odds to qualify
But after being told he would have to return to the UK, he upset the odds and qualified for Team GB whilst based in Denmark.

Hopefully unlike Waddle, he can go one step further, and the CPH Weekly interviewed Halsted to find out a little more about his inspiration and life in Denmark.

What inspired you to compete at an elite level?
Both my parents were British Olympic fencers (Nick at Mexico City ’68 and Clare at Munich ’72 and Montreal ’76). I started fencing at a kids club run by my mum in Finchley in north London. The Olympics was always part of our family and it was inspiring, but I think I was more inspired by my own experiences with the sport coming up through the junior ranks and pushing to be a competitor on the world stage.

How has living in Denmark helped you?
I have a fantastic sport/life balance here. There are a small but very dedicated group of fencers in Copenhagen who are such a pleasure to train with. It is a fantastic environment to be a part of. I work in a performance coaching capacity and that has given me an opportunity to gain perspective on a lot of things relating to my own performance.

What do you enjoy about living in Copenhagen?
I love the size and the feel of the city. I cycle everywhere, and that just makes me so happy. The more places I have to visit in a day the better, because I get to dart around on my bike. I grew up in London where this kind of daily movement would just not be possible in the same way. I also appreciate that nowhere in the city is built up very high, so it doesn’t feel overbearing or oppressive.

How easy was it to settle here?
It felt easy enough. Having a Danish partner certainly helped, as did the welcoming fencing community. That’s a great thing about niche activities – they are generally very tight-knit communities. I already had some good friends on the Danish national team, so I had a support network already in place. I think being British helped, as we have so much in common. There was nothing I really missed other than friends and family, and it’s so close that I get to see them regularly anyway.

What made you aim for 2016?
After a year of being here I found the fire in my belly had returned for high-level competition so I decided to make a comeback. I contacted the British team management and let them know my intentions. At first they said I would have to move back to London, but my results during that first season back were good enough that they decided I could be in the team whilst living and training in Denmark.

What are your medal prospects at Rio?
As a team we are feeling very confident. We have been improving dramatically over the last year, and during that time we have beaten every one of the other nations who will be competing in Rio.

Do you have any concerns heading to Rio?
The dire economic and social situation in Brazil is highlighting the overall unsustainability of the current model of hosting an Olympic Games. There have been significant negative side-effects from all of the recent Olympics, and this year is set to trump them all. I would like to see the IOC make real changes to the way they require an Olympics to be hosted, so that they become a truly positive event for all concerned.

How has the level of fencing in Denmark improved since you moved here?
The level has been rising for some time now, with Denmark winning its first senior World Championships medal through Patrick Jørgensen last year, but I can’t say that has been anything to do with my arrival! I hope to make an impact through my work as performance director at Trekanten Fencing Club. I very much enjoy it and want to pursue it further after Rio.

Do you think it’s realistic Denmark might challenge for medals in the years ahead?
There is real potential for big things in Danish fencing. One key goal is to qualify someone for the next Olympics as we didn’t manage it this time round. But there are lots of other targets before then, and I’m looking forward to being involved in that progression as much as I can.

Do you imagine you will move back to the UK?
I’m really enjoying my work and I’d like to continue with that. I love being in Denmark, so it’d be great to find a path that will keep me here at least for a while.

What would be your advice to any young Danes who might want to fence?
I would highly recommend they come and try it out. Just look online for your nearest club. Clubs generally have equipment you can borrow. It’s such a great challenge, both physically and mentally. The complexity and never-ending progression can make it an incredibly addictive activity, which isn’t bad for something so healthy!