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US Fencers Prepare for Olympics

  • Peter Fedynsky

The United States is the only country to have qualified the maximum of 16 fencers for the London Olympic Games that begin in late July. U.S. fencers are preparing for the competition not only physically, but mentally and emotionally.

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Nzingha Prescod trains at the Fencers Club in New York City. The Columbia University student began fencing at the age of nine, and is trying to contain her excitement about going to the Olympics.

"I don't think I want to think of it as the Olympics, because I feel like the nerves would overwhelm me," said Prescod. "But if I just think of it as another competition that I've done a million times, then I can just fence like normal."

Prescod's teammate James Williams, seen here at a recent U.S. Olympic Committee promotional event in New York City, says the Olympics magnify the psychological aspects of sports, because the games are so infrequent.

"Everybody is pretty much on the level of parity physically at this point," said Williams. "So it's mostly mental tenacity and mental fortitude that you're hoping to improve."

Buckie Leach, Nzingha Prescod's coach, says the mental factor in fencing is huge. But he cautions about dwelling on performance to satisfy family members or a trainer.

"When those things enter into it then everything gets messed up," said Leach. "So you want to be smart and understand, but also you have to find that zone. Thinking too much can be a problem."

Leach says many countries have individual fencing styles - Germans tend to be methodical, the Russians tactical, the French intense. He explains how the Italian sense of feeling and emotion translates to the tip of a sword.

"The Italians have a more free form way of teaching, allowing the athlete to find their own way a little bit," Leach noted. "They have structure of course, but it's more about how the athlete feels and what the relationship is with the coach."

Prescod says the process of responding to an opponent's attack, while simultaneously looking for an opening comes from an innate feeling that occurs when fencing becomes second nature.

"A lot of times, fencing is not only strategic; it's a lot of what you feel on the strip," said Prescod. "So it's not always going to be planned out. Sometimes, it's just a reaction that has developed from training over the past several years."

If the Olympics were just another competition, athletes would not experience the anxieties that make the Games exciting. The mental ability to deal with such tension is part of what has made them Olympians.