Thursday, July 22, 2021

Olympic Fencing

TigerBlog's main rooting interest in the upcoming Summer Olympics is in the 19 Princeton athletes who will be competing there.

This, of course, includes fencing. It's a sport in which Princeton has been quite successful through the years on the Olympic stage, and it's a sport in which Princeton will be well-represented again when the Tokyo Games begin in a few days.

Princeton fencing and the Olympics go back to Henry Breckinridge, Class of 1907. Breckinridge won bronze in team foil in the 1920 Games in Antwerp, Belgium. In fact, it was Breckinridge who won the deciding bout in the third-place match against Great Britain.

In addition to being an Olympic medalist in fencing, Breckinridge had quite the interesting life. Beginning in 1913 at the age of 27, he was the Assistant Secretary of War under Woodrow Wilson, another Princeton alum, until he left to actually fight in World War I as a battalion commander. Among the battles he fought was the Meuse-Argonne, where nearly 27,000 Americans died.

He went to Harvard Law School after Princeton, and he spent much of his life in law, including for the Lindbergh family during the ransom negotiations after the baby was kidnapped. He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate from New York in 1934 and entered Democratic Presidential primaries in 1936, with little success.

The next Princeton fencer to win a medal was Tracy Jaeckel, who won bronze in team epee in 1932 in Los Angeles. Jaeckel, from the Class of 1928, was an IFA national champion at Princeton. After graduation, he went into the family furrier business before opening a haberdashery in the Virgin Islands. He was also the president of the Virgin Islands Fencing Association.

A haberdashery, by the way, is a fancy way of saying a men's clothing store. There are probably way worse places to run a business, fence and live than in the Virgin Islands.

There have been quite a few Princeton Olympic fencers – 12, to be exact – and there have been four medal winners, all in team events. The most recent two were teammates in the Olympics but never teammates at Princeton.

Maya Lawrence was in the Class of 2002. Susie Scanlan was in the Class of 2014. They were teammates together at the 2012 London Games, where they upset Russia, the gold medal favorite, in the bronze medal epee match.

Scanlan came back to Princeton after winning an Olympic medal and was a member of the 2013 NCAA women's fencing championship team. 

TigerBlog spoke to both of them for the women's history book that he's written (it's at the publisher now), and their stories were among the most fascinating. Scanlan spoke about what it was like to compete at Princeton after winning an Olympic medal. Lawrence spoke about her introduction to the sport and how her mother got into it after she did.

TB stumbled on a story in the New York Post earlier this week about a brother/sister fencing duo. Khalil Thompson is on the U.S. men's team as an individual and in a team competition, and his sister (Kamali) is an alternate on the U.S. sabre team (she's also an orthopedic surgery resident).

There are two interesting parts of this story. First, the Thompson's are from Teaneck, N.J., which is also Lawrence's hometown. In fact, her mother became the fencing coach at Teaneck High School and coached the Thompsons.

Second, one of the four Princetonians who will be fencing in Tokyo is about to start medical school, Kat Holmes, is likely headed down the orthopedic path as well. 

Holmes is making her second Olympic appearance. Her former Princeton teammates, Anna van Brummen and Eliza Stone (both of whom were NCAA individual champions at Princeton), are making their first, as is Egyptian men's fencer Mohamed Hamza.

For Hamza, these are his second Olympic Games, as he fenced in 2016. He's trying to do what Scanlan did, which is to win an Olympic medal and then return to compete for Princeton, which he will do this winter as a junior.

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