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Richard Kruse and James Davis made early exits in the men’s individual foil competition

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All London’s Richard Kruse wanted for his 29th birthday was an Olympic fencing medal.

But those hopes were shattered, quick as a flash, by his Russian rival Artur Akhmatkhuzin in the men’s individual foil at the ExCel today.

Harrow-born Kruse, 29 yesterday, was looking to improve on his quarter-final placing at the 2004 Games in Athens and had said anything less than a podium place would not be worth celebrating – as he felt he was so much better now.

But he will probably feel like drowning his sorrows tonight after bowing out in a matter of minutes, losing by a resounding 15-5 margin.

And the man with a BEng in civil engineering, who once said he would use the theme tune from Steptoe & Son as his walk-on music, admitted he feels closer to the fencing scrapheap.

“I think we’re nearing the end,” said Kruse. “Fencing has been very good to me, but I can’t fence like I was 21.

“I will probably do another year, just wind down. It’s been heading that way for the last few years.

“It’s been hard to hit form regularly. When I do it can go well, but it’s too sporadic. I think if my timing was on I’d have stood a chance, but he was sharper on the day.

“I felt pretty good this morning, but it didn’t happen.”

Former world number four Kruse, born and raised about five miles from the Olympic site, began to fence at Finchley Foil at the age of 10.

A larger than life character, who enjoys skiing, playing the bagpipes and the martial art of Wing Chun, made famous by Bruce Lee, Kruse has had a successful career at domestic, European and world level and reached the last 16 at the Beijing Olympics four years ago.

But it never happened for him in his home town.

Akhmatkhuzin was first on the scoreboard after a long opening exchange and never looked back, increasing his lead to eight points by the end of the first three-minute round.

Kruse already looked a beaten man during the drinks break and the end came swiftly after the restart, as Akhmatkhuzin eased into the last 16.

His supporters from Camden Foil and the ZFW Club where he coaches, would no doubt have had lots of sympathy for Kruse, who has not ruled out making a fourth Olympics appearance in Rio.

GB team-mate James Davis put up more of a fight against four-time world champion Peter Joppich, of Germany, in his last-32 tie, but suffered the same fate – defeat at the first hurdle.

“I was very nervous, I won’t lie, but the minute I walked on the stage, I thrived on it,” said 21-year-old north Londoner after his 15-10 defeat.

“It’s the same format and the same guys, you’ve just got to deal with it.

“I was always in it, even at 14-10 down. You have to focus, every hit counts, but it’s done, I’m out and I’m devastated.

“We’re gutted. We’ve worked very hard and it’s a shame we couldn’t put on a better show for the fans. We’ve got to improve. These guys are at the top of their game and we’ve got to catch up.

“We have to move on to the team event on August 5, we’ve still got a job to do. We’ll sob after then.

“Tomorrow morning we’ll have a look at what we did wrong.”

Edgware-born Davis, competing just a few yards away from Kruse, conceded the first two points of his bout with Joppich, but hit back with three successive points to take the lead, prompting a resounding cheer from the crowd

Joppich revealed his floppy blonde hair as he removed his mask to gather his thoughts and recorded the next three hits for a 5-3 lead after the first round.

And the gap stayed at two until Davis cut Joppich’s lead to 9-8 and raised his fist in triumph.

But after the two men traded further hits, Joppich pulled clear with four successive hits to move to the brink of victory.

And although Davis saved the first match point, the German made sure at the second time of asking.

“I did my homework, but I couldn’t implement it,” added Davis, who would like to see more youngsters from state schools getting into fencing to rid it of its reputation for being elitist and expensive.

“I felt good and I’ve improved so much in six months. I was about 130th in the world, but I’ve beaten top-16 guys, including Peter and I’m now 28th in the world.”

Davis and Kruse will be joined by Laurence Halsted and Husayn Rosowsky for the team event on Sunday, when they meet Egypt for a place in the last eight.

“It’s a big opportunity missed if we don’t do well,” added Davis.

“We are young and have got some improving to do on the piste.

“There’s a lot of pressure on men’s foil and on the big day we struggled.

“We do need to do work. There’s always more to come, but these things take time.”

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