It’s been a year since the Olympics. For many people, that might not mean much. One more year to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Three more years till London 2012. For the US fencing community, it carries a bit more impact.

Read on as Ben Humphrey highlights what the last year in fencing means to him.

One year ago, Team USA brought home a total of six Olympic medals in their groundbreaking performance. The totals, one gold, three silvers, and two bronzes, included a sweep of the Women’s Sabre individual event. Our six medal count was second only to the Italians, who took home seven. For a country that previously netted a grand total of twelve Olympic Fencing medals, I think its safe to say that we had a stellar year.

{sidebar id=1}The question that occurs to me today, almost one year since our Men’s Sabre team defeated Russia to earn their silver medal, is what changes have we seen? What has our resounding success in Beijing brought home to the US fencing community? What has changed in the seemingly whirlwind year since the US staked its claim as one of the premier fencing powers in the world?

It should come as no surprise that our successes haven’t stopped coming. Our youth teams, led by a number of rising stars, have brought home several medals over the course of the year. The seniors have been stepping up to the plate as well, including a gold medal performance by Olympic champion Mariel Zagunis, and a bronze in Men’s Sabre from Tim Morehouse here in the ‘States, at the Dallas World Cup.

The Pan Am games was a real eye opener, as the US brought home 22 medals – including 10 out of the possible 12 gold. More athletes than ever are training hard and making serious bids to represent the United States at World Cup events, as the US is finally proving itself able to compete on an even footing with some of the juggernauts of the sport.

Of more subtle, yet no less impactful, note are the local results. It is readily apparent that the sports popularity and notoriety have grown. I personally have been asked by people ranging from a UPS driver to a Kroger cashier if I knew the girls who swept women’s sabre, or if I saw the Men’s sabre team “lose” only to come back and win after the call was reversed. Even today, a year later, people who never even knew fencing existed are still commenting on the achievements of our Olympians.

Beyond the international accomplishments, and beyond the hype the Olympics provides, I feel that real changes have been wrought throughout US fencing as a whole, and are worth noting :

  1. Pride. I think most, if not all, US fencers were able to share in some of the limelight that surrounded the Olympic team’s success. I think we all took pride in seeing the US finally stand up and demand respect in a field that heretofore had been dominated by the European powerhouses. Even the beginning hobby fencers this year know the names of our Olympians and feel connected to the team, moreso, I believe, than local competitors in other sports.
  2. Drive. The accomplishments, not only of the Olympians, but of our World Cup competitors, really shows American fencers what can be done right here in their own back yard. Yes, our internationally competitive athletes have been fencing and training for a long time, but they do it right here. They have real jobs. They go to school. They live their lives. Fencers are finally starting to see what can be accomplished when hard work and dedication are applied.
  3. Popularity. Many fencers aren’t driving to win an Olympic gold medal. Some of them just want to meet some new friends. Some want to try something different. Some saw an old Erol Flynn movie and thought fencing looked cool. Over the past year, the increased awareness of fencing in the US has helped open the door to thousands of excited new participants.
  4. Ownership. Throughout this post, I have referred to “Our” Olympians. “Our” team. “Our” athletes. This year we all took part in something amazing. The support of other fencers, parents, friends, family, husbands, wives, and countless others helped make United States fencing history. I believe that we all can, have, and should continue to take some ownership of this success. The athletes may have won the medals, but we all are helping make fencing what it is every day. The past year, I’ve seen people finally become aware of this and step up to take the reigns in a sport that they all love.

This might all be just my perspective. I might be rocking my rose-colored glasses for all they’re worth, and seeing what I want to see. I certainly hope this isn’t the case. I hope that we’re all out in the trenches, helping to encourage, motivate, and push the next level of rising stars to the top. I hope we’re all recruiting new enthusiasts from all walks of life. And I hope we’re all looking for and seeing the same success stories I’ve seen in the past year. Whether we are fencers, parents, coaches, referees, or even just fans of the sport – I hope we all keep loving it, and keep moving forward.

What is your view? Discuss it in the forum thread here.

Ben Humphrey works at Fencing.Net making sure everyone is happy with their sabres and trains for sabre and foil competition on the regional circuit. When not fencing he can be found practicing up for karaoke, or giving a scathing review of the latest pop culture movie he’s been duped into seeing.