Road To The Olympic Games

Maxime Brinck-Croteau hopes fencing World Cup gets him closer to Rio

Canadian fencer Maxime Brinck-Croteau will compete at the fencing World Cup over the weekend - his second last Olympic qualification tournament. Brinck-Croteau's entire career has been planned around this point, but he's found a way to ignore the pressure.

Quebec native at exact point he planned for 5 years ago

Canadian fencer Maxime Brinck-Croteau, left, won't even let himself think about how it would feel to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. (Gregory Bull/The Associated Press)

Five years ago, fencer Maxime Brinck-Croteau quit his job and moved to China. He left his friends, his family and his country to pursue the dream of competing at the Rio Olympics.

Now, he's a month away from finding out if his five-year commitment will result in an Olympic qualification.

And his performance at the épée World Cup this weekend, which is streaming live on Saturday and Sunday, will play a significant part in that process. Big points are at stake, and it's the second-last qualification tournament left for the Quebec native, who now lives in Markham, Ont.

"Training-wise, I feel awesome," Brinck-Croteau told CBC Sports. "Technically, mentally, everything is top notch.

"The point where I'm at right now, it's exactly the position we prepared for almost five years ago."

Learning lessons

With 20 years of fencing experience, the 29-year-old Brinck-Croteau has seen it all.

He had a career-highlight performance at last April's 2015 Pan American championships, where he won silver in the individual épée event.

Just three months later, Brink-Croteau had less success at the Pan Am Games in Toronto. His goal was to get on the podium. He was prepared for the competition, and to compete in front of friends and family. What he wasn't expecting was the crowd and sheer hype of it all.

He ended up losing 15-0 to Venezuela's Ruben Limardo Gascon during the Round of 16. 

"Monstrous pressure," he said of the Games. "For me it was the first event with a crowd that was cheering like you were Wayne Gretzky. And for me, that was the first time and I was crushed under pressure.

"I had the greatest experience at the Pan Am Games and also the worst nightmare possible," Brinck-Croteau said of the learning experience. 

"So I'm glad it happened there and not at the Olympic Games."

Curbing the pressure

To prevent a repeat of his Pan Am Games performance, Brinck-Croteau has boiled fencing down to the bare essentials.

His only goal is to have fun.

"I've set objectives many times in the past and every time I underperform," he said. "I lost the fun of it; I don't do fencing for the results or the fame. I do fencing because it's fun. I'm almost 30 years old and I'm still playing with swords.

"So my goal is to just enjoy the tournament, try to have fun."

As simple as it sounds, fun seems like a lofty goal when the stakes are as high as your lifelong dream.

"The closer we approach the deadline, the bigger the pressure is and I'm nervous and I'm stressed," Brinck-Croteau admitted. "But it's a plan I was dreaming about for the last 20 years and was working towards full time for the last five years. So I'm just following a recipe that will end in a month.

"So I'll have a bad cake, a good cake, I don't know. But I'll have a cake and I won't have any regrets afterwards."

Cake is an appropriate metaphor. Brinck-Croteau finds out if he qualifies for the Games a week before his 30th birthday on March 19. He's currently in the lead for a Pan Am zone spot and with a good performance this weekend, he's well on his way to a great birthday celebration. 

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