What a moment of extreme bliss that was. The five saber fencers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) team were just one win away from winning the longed-for gold at the Olympic Games in Barcelona. The fingers crossed for the team of five went to Vadym Guttsait. If, on that late evening of August 7, 1992 in the Palacio de la Metalurgia, he defeated his Hungarian opponent in the final, Péter Abay, the triumph would be sealed.
And Guttsait put the icing on the cake. When the then 20-year-old scored the decisive goal to make it 5:3, there was no stopping his opponents. In particular, the youngest of the quintet, 18-year-old Stanislav Pozdnyakov, could hardly believe his joy. He fell around Guttsait’s neck, squeezed and hugged him. Both let their emotions run wild.
The joint successful performance not only gave the Olympic debutants an emotional experience that would remain unforgettable. At the same time, it was the beginning of a deep friendship. “We respected each other, we loved each other, we were like brothers,” says Guttsait of his relationship with Pozdnyakov at the time. Nothing could separate the two – that’s how it once seemed. And that although they no longer fought for the same nation after their Olympic victory.
The construct of the CIS as a unified team of the Soviet Union, which was dissolved at the end of 1991, only existed for Barcelona because the twelve former union republics did not have enough time to form their own teams. After the summer games in Spain, Guttsait, who was born in Kiev, went to the planche for Ukraine at international championships. Pozdnyakov, the right-hander from Novosibirsk, used his cut and thrust weapon for Russia from then on
Pozdnyakov had a lot more reason to celebrate. The ten-time world champion fought four more times on an Olympic stage until 2008 and won three more gold plaques. Guttsait could only dream of medals like this. He might have had the big coup in Atlanta in 1996 if he had defeated Pozdnyakov in the Olympic quarterfinals there. But after a highly dramatic duel, he lost by almost 14:15. The loser was only sixth, while Pozdnyakov rose to become the celebrated champion.
After that, they no longer faced each other as rivals on the fencing piste. Nevertheless, their paths continued to cross. Even after the end of their sports careers, they met again constantly. Either as the later head coach of their selected teams or as a referee or as a representative of international bodies.
Their encounters were always characterized by the joy of seeing each other again, but this changed abruptly in spring 2014 with the annexation of Crimea. At that time, their friendship got the first deep cracks, Guttsait said recently. It finally fell apart a year ago with the start of the Russian war of aggression. He has since referred to Pozdnyakov as “my enemy,” whom he despises deeply because his former teammate supported the invasion and encouraged Russian athletes to take part in the conquest and kill Ukrainians.
Pozdnyakov’s attitude is unquestionable. “From the point of view of the Russian Olympic Committee, as citizens of the country, we consider service to the fatherland an honorable duty, and it is also an honorable duty for every citizen, including members of national teams,” he told TASS. The former army officer has been President of the National Olympic Committee (NOK) for five years.
Guttsait is now also speaking as NOK President of his country. He has been in office since November, succeeding Sergei Bubka, the former world record holder in pole vaulting. At the same time, Guttsait has been in charge as sports minister for three years. Pozdnyakov no longer exists for him as a person, the multi-functionary emphasizes. He wishes he didn’t know him. He was deleted from his life. Pozdnyakov has not yet responded to Gutsaitt’s comments.
343 sports facilities have been destroyed in Ukraine since the Russian attack. 231 athletes were killed, 35 athletes are in captivity, 3000 active athletes are fighting directly on the front lines.
Should athletes from Russia and Belarus receive confirmation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for next year’s summer games in Paris, Ukraine and other countries do not rule out a boycott of the world sports festival. Guttsait would not travel to France as a referee either.
He was chairman of the summer games three times. Most recently in 2021, when he led the all-Russian final of the saber fencers in Tokyo. Sofiya Pozdnyakov, the 24-year-old daughter of his former boyfriend Stanislav, won.