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Fencing For The Future

By John Nestor | Jan. 17, 2013, 10:33 a.m. (ET)

Seth Kelsey competes against Ruben Limardo Gascon of Venezuela in the men's epee individual fencing semifinal at the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on August 1, 2012 in London, England.

Seth Kelsey has been a part of some historic moments as a competitive member of USA Fencing.

Now he wants to help the future of the team.

Kelsey is hanging up his epée and has taken on the position of Director of Sports Performance and Development for USA Fencing. The decision draws to a close a successful competitive career that included three appearances in the Olympic Games and a breakthrough performance at the 2012 Team World Championships.

Kelsey finished fourth in the individual epée competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games, which was the highest an American men’s epée fencer has finished in the Olympic Games since 1952. He also helped lead the U.S. Men’s Epée Team to a gold-medal finish at the World Team Championships in April — the first gold-medal win for a U.S. man from any weapon at the senior world level.

Add a silver medal that Kelsey won as a member of the 2010 Senior World Team and you start to see a résumé that reveals Kelsey as one of Team USA’s most decorated fencers. That résumé doesn’t include an Olympic medal, but darn close. Kelsey lost his last two matches in London in one-touch overtime, missing out on a shot at the gold and then a bronze.

Despite the near misses at the Olympic level, Kelsey is comfortable with his accomplishments and is ready to move on to his next role.

“It was tough, but at the end of the day I did everything I could have done and gave all I had,” Kelsey said of his performance in London. “I won some great bouts; I beat the world No. 1, which I had never done before. So I don’t have any regrets.”

Seth Kelsey Celebrates His Win 
Seth Kelsey celebrates winning the men's sabre individual
quarterfinal match against Silvio Fernandez of Venezuela
at the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on
August 1, 2012 in London, England.

Now Kelsey is headed behind the scenes to work on logistics, travel, transportation and grassroots development, coaching education and long-term athlete development. He also will work with the U.S. Olympic Committee on funding for USA Fencing.

“I saw this spot open up, and I really like the new direction USA Fencing is headed in,” Kelsey said. “I wanted to be a part of that and after some careful consideration I decided to go this route.”

Kelsey is not alone in his excitement about the direction of USA Fencing or about his new position.

“Seth is an excellent addition not only to our National Office staff, but he is a great resource to the USA Fencing community as a whole,” USA Fencing CEO Val Belmonte said in a news release. “I think he’s a perfect fit for our sport and a great person that we’re all looking forward to working with. He’s part of a new generation of leaders and I hope that he serves as a role model for any fencers who have aspirations of working in sports administration down the road.”

A big part of what Kelsey will bring to the table in his new role is experience. And that experience comes in many forms. Clearly, he has the fencing experience, knowing what athletes need as far as training and coaching, to prepare for competitions. But Kelsey also brings a military background to the position.

A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science, Kelsey served as in the Air Force for nine years and earned the rank of captain in 2007. He remains in the Air Force Reserves. All of which Kelsey believes will serve him well in his effort to aid USA Fencing’s athletes and coaches.

“The Air Force is very good about planning, organizing and equipping, and that structure will help you be good in any arena,” Kelsey said. “Those skills will come in handy in this role where you have to manage a large number of athletes.”

With the military background providing structure, Kelsey will also have the benefit of having been there and done that. Competing at such a high level for so long, winning at worlds, contending at the Olympic Games, will all give Kelsey a window into what the next crop of fencers need to be a success.

“You have to have a plan and look at things by quad, if not two quads,” Kelsey said. “It takes time to develop coaches and athletes and for them to gain the experience of competing internationally. Plus I had been competing at the senior international level for 10, 11 years. I learned a lot of lessons along the way to help guide me in my decisions.”

A fencer since he was 11, the 31-year-old Kelsey will be making decisions he hopes will help the athletes of USA Fencing go beyond what he was able to accomplish, which was quite a bit. It won’t be easy, but the goal is for the USA to become a force in the world of fencing.

“I want to help give our athletes the best chances possible at winning medals at the world championships and the Olympics,” Kelsey said. “I’m here to make sure the national team coaches and athletes get all the resources they need. We had six top-eight individuals in London. I want to build on that. I look at the talent pool that we have, and it will take hard work, but I think it is achievable.”

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. John Nestor is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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Seth Kelsey