{mosimage}2nd Lt. Seth Kelsey is the top ranked men’s epee fencer in the United States and a member of the 2004 Olympic Team.  He trains as a member of the United States Air Force’s World Class Athlete Program.  He recently took some time between world cup travels to talk to Fencing.Net.

FN – You’ve had a huge jump in your world ranking this year, up to #29.  You’ve also made the top 8 in two strong world cups and won a bronze medal in Tallinn.  What changed in your fencing to get you to this level?

Kelsey: Experience.  In the 2002-2003 season I went to 7 world cups, the Pan American Games and the World Championships – all in a period of 9 months.  I now have a better understanding of the competitions and dealing with international travel.

I’ve also been working a lot with my coach, Paul Soter, to fine tune my fencing game.

I have more experience fencing those fencers and understand how to fence the 2-day format where you have pools and DE’s (direct elimination rounds) on the first day, and then more on the second day.  You have to give it everything you have on the first day to make it to the second day.

FN – How do you keep your legs for the second day then?

Kelsey: Lots of practice!  I’m very lucky, it comes easy to me.

I started going to world cups a couple of years ago, and my goal was to always make it to the second day.

FN: You’re a member of the World Class Athlete Program.  Tell us something about that and how it has helped this season.

Kelsey: It’s great.  The Air Force has a program for elite athletes.  The World Class Athlete Program lets me have fencing as my full time job.  I’m an office in the Air Force, and their sponsorship allows me to focus on my training full time.

I can come back from world cup travel for 10 days and work out and rest.  Eric [Hansen] has to come back and go to work.  Others (Soren Thompson, Jan Vivani) are taking this year off.

The Air Force funds my travel.  I don’t have to worry about staying in the cheapest hotel.  That’s not a huge factor, but it adds up over time.  Thanks to the Air Force, I can focus on my fencing.

FN: What got you into fencing?

Kelsey: I tried all of the other sports – basketball, kung-fu.  A friend and I came and tried it out; I was terrible my first year.  Nobody thought I would be any good.

I started fencing at the Oregon Fencing Alliance with Colleen Olney.  I’ve been fencing for 11 1/2 years now.

I really like the people in fencing.  This season we’re competing for 3 slots on the team, but we coordinate our travel, hotels.  The camaraderie is great.  We’re the best of friends off the strip. 

FN: What is your goal for the Olympics?

Kelsey: For me, it’s possible to medal.  I can medal and the team can also medal.

The Olympics are special because they only happen once every 4 years and they are more prestigious than world championships.  Everyone that’s truly the best is there. 

Winning a world championships is nice, but it’s the Gold Medal that people remember.  That puts extra pressure on the Olympics.

FN: Are there any teams you prefer to fence?

Kelsey: We will have to beat a difficult team.  Skill-wise [some teams] are better one-on-one, but as a team we can beat them.

At the Barcelona world cup, we went into the last round [against Ukraine] tied – you can’t ask for a better position than that.

FN: What is the main difference in the team vs. individual competition?

Kelsey: In team, one person can lose it but it’s the team that wins it.

We all know our roles on the team.  Some people are there to keep the score low.  I’m the closer.  The team’s job is to get it to me tied at the last bout.  I like the pressure of the closer – I like to close it out.

FN: When you go to practice, how do you train? 

Kelsey: When you go to practice you should work on a specific set of actions or focus on winning.

A lot of times in practice you can get complacent, but you can’t let that happen.

Every bout you have to fight.  You have to say “It’s practice and I’m down 4-2, but I’m going to fight and win.” 

You can go in and focus only on toe touches until you get it right, or you can focus on winning every bout.  You have to be ready to fight to win.

With the world cup season, it’s been difficult to cross-train.  I’ve been training for world cups for over 2 years and there is no off season.  (After the Havana World Championships we had to travel and compete in a NAC and then the world cup season started.)

Now that he and the US Men’s Epee team have qualified for the Athens Games, 2Lt. Kelsey is looking forward to a few months of training in the United States and taking a break from world cup travel.

Kelsey says that you have to be ready to fight to win, and the entire men’s epee squad have proven through their individual and team results that they are fighters.

You can find information about the Oregon Fencing Alliance at: http://www.oregonfencing.com/ and about the USAF World Class Athlete Program at: http://www.afsv.af.mil/AFSports/WCAP.htm.


Seth Kelsey at the 2003 Cuba World Cup: (800k)

(From “ 2003 World Cup Men’s Epee Cuba, Argentina & Montreal DVD,” available at the Fencing.net Store!)