In 1904, the United States made up two of the three medalists in Individual Saber (a fencing event) at the St. Louis Olympics. Since then, only one other American has taken a medal. That was Peter Westbrook. He won a bronze medal eighty years after his two predecessors in 1984. However, no other Americans have won a silver, and most often US fencers in this competition are eliminated in preliminary rounds or in rarer cases, the quarter finals.
In walks Daryl Homer.
Daryl Homer was born on July 16, 1990 in Saint Thomas of the US Virgin Islands. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to the mainland US and into an apartment in the Bronx section of Manhattan.
It was there that an 11 year-old Homer found a picture of fencing in a dictionary. You could say it was love at first sight. Homer took up the saber event in part because of the same Peter Westbrook who took bronze in the event thirty-two years ago. Peter Westbrook had started a foundation for inner-city kids to exposed to fencing, as the sport can cost a large amount of money at times, and Daryl Homer who fenced through the foundation was hooked on the sport. In an interview with The Huffington Post Homer explained
When I was younger all the cool guys were saber fencers and actually, Peter Westbrook, the guy who started the foundation, was a saber fencer. So it’s only natural for him to try to gravitate all of the most talented male athletes to what he was doing. So, in a way, that was a big influence for me.
Daryl Homer was a prodigy. He excelled at the sport and received a scholarship from Saint John's University. There he successfully won the NCAA fencing championship in both his sophomore and junior years.
Then, the 2012 London Olympics came along. Daryl Homer was twenty-two, which is pretty young for the sport. In fact, according to The Guardian, the average age of a fencer in London was just over 26 years old. Unlike what you would expect, Daryl Homer was not in over his head at all. In fact, in a preliminary round he beat the (at the time) No. 2 ranked fencer in the world, Russia's Aleksky Yakimenko before losing by one point in the quarterfinals to that year's fourth place finisher Rares Dumitrescu.
All of a sudden, in an event that the US had not successfully competed at in decades the team had a bright future. That future only got brighter. Between 2011 and 2014 Daryl Homer took 5 gold medals in team and individual saber at the Pan-American Championships. In 2015, Homer shocked the fencing world for the first time by finishing second in the World Championships.
However, since 2012, Homer has had only one goal. His goal was to win a medal for the USA in Rio De Janeiro, and he did it. On August 10th, Daryl Homer won the United States of America's first silver medal in Men's Individual Saber at the olympics in one hundred and thirty-two years, and he did it in dramatic fashion.
In the quarterfinals he bested Germany's Matyas Szabo, the son of two Olympic Fencers with breathtaking efficiency. Homer frankly, overwhelmed the German with his fast paced and acrobatic style of fencing. Homer used his patented "flunge", a move where he charges the opponent before doing a jumping lunge with his saber to score a point against them, and for much of the match Szabo was frustrated with several long stare downs towards the officials of the match. The final score was 15-12 in favor of Homer, but it never felt that close.
In the semis, the pressure was on, and Homer pulled out a narrow 15-14 win over Iran's Mojtaba Abedini.
He had done it.
Daryl Homer had broken a 112 year curse on US Fencing with one poke of his saber. No matter what happened in the finals, Daryl Homer was an Olympic hero.
In the finals, he squared off with this competition's No. 2 ranked fencer Aron Szilagyi, and unfortunately, Homer was not able to upset the Hungarian.
However, that does not and should not diminish the amazing achievement that Daryl Homer has made. No longer does the US have to hold onto a bronze medal thirty two-years ago as evidence of success in Individual Saber. Overnight, Daryl Homer has shown that the sport of fencing is not just a sport for the wealthiest Americans, but that with a little help, kids of all socioeconomic backgrounds can fall in love with the sport.
Daryl Homer is a hero. Not just for winning a medal, not just for going to Rio, but because his success can bring hope that if you hold onto your dreams - your passions tight enough you can make it.
Thank you, Daryl Homer, thank you and congratulations.
Lead Image Credit: USA Today via Twitter