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And He's Off: Race Imboden Starts Fencing Season On High Note

By G. Allen Johnson | Oct. 19, 2014, 10 p.m. (ET)

Race Imboden competes at the 2014 San Francisco Men's Foil World Cup in San Francisco on Oct. 18, 2014.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Race Imboden could taste it.

He’d racked up three tough wins to kick off the fencing world cup season Saturday afternoon at San Francisco’s historic Kezar Pavilion, and was battling Frenchman Jeremy Cadot to the very end — then it was over.

“One touch away from a medal,” Imboden said. “It wasn’t the greatest day.”

Disappointment, sure. But it wasn’t the worst day either. Imboden was the highest-finishing American at the San Francisco Men’s Foil World Cup, placing sixth after scraping by France’s Jean-Paul Tony Helissey 15-14 in the table of 64, rolling 15-8 over Japan’s Kenta Chida in the table of 32 and advancing to the quarterfinals with a 15-12 win over France’s Julien Mertine.

Plus his parents, William and Fiona, were there to see him fence internationally for only the third time (the first being at the London 2012 Olympic Games). And he was to fence with his buddies on the 2012 Olympic Team in Sunday's team competition.

And the man he lost 15-14 to, Cadot, ended up winning the tournament. Not so bad, right?

“It’s a start,” said Imboden, who is ranked No. 2 in the United States and No. 10 in the world. “We have some things to correct. I fence with a lot of French guys, and we’ll have to take a look at that. But I think the fact that I’m upping my training is paying off, and I’m raring to go for the next competition.”

Imboden, who at the London Games placed ninth as an individual and was a part of a fourth-place team as well, is using his mid-quadrennium year to find harmony between his rugged training regimen — he is working with a personal trainer doing “explosive work” (legs and upper body work for added power), enthusiasm for yoga and the mental aspects of fencing strategy.

“I’m a big fan of yoga,” Imboden said. “I think it’s important for any sports that you balance physically as well as mentally.”

Imboden’s coach, 2004 Olympian Dan Kellner, marvels at how the kid he first saw as a 10-year-old at Manhattan’s legendary Fencers Club has blossomed.

“He’s an extremely hard worker,” said Kellner, who runs the Brooklyn Bridge Fencing Club near Imboden’s house in Brooklyn, New York. “He does extra workouts after practice. He is really diligent about keeping to his schedule, and his work ethic is like none I’ve ever seen. He has the potential to medal at the (2016) Olympics.”

Imboden, who calls himself “a fencing geek,” has found a unique way of financing his fencing habit. Every fencer has a day job of some sort. Imboden, in fact, is an international model, using his slender, 6-foot-1, 155-pound frame to his advantage on the runways in New York and Paris. He has worked with Louis Vuitton, J.Crew and Marc Jacobs, among others.

“It’s fun, I can’t complain about it,” Imboden said, smiling. “It keeps me funded, and it’s fun to do.”

The San Francisco World Cup, where nearly 200 of the best foil fencers from 35 countries competed, is the first of a long season that stretches into June. Because of that, Imboden is keeping his mind focused on the season and says he’s not thinking of Rio.

“My goals are always to just improve. As long as I’m improving, I’m happy with that,” he said.

But Kellner says that despite his pupil’s modesty, there’s an inner fire burning.

“Look, he’s been in the top 15 in the world for the last three years,” the coach said. “That’s hard to do.”

Kellner points to the story of how he got to be Imboden’s coach as a way of illustrating that fire. Imboden’s coach at the time, noted fencer Jed Dupree, had decided to quit coaching to pursue other interests.

“Race called me up and asked me to go get coffee, and asked me if I was interested in coaching him,” Kellner said. “So we sat and talked about his philosophy of fencing, my philosophy of fencing, where we met in the middle, where we differed a little bit. Luckily, it’s worked out well.”

Imboden said, “I grew up watching fencing. I would definitely call myself a fencing geek. I grew up watching most of the guys I’m competing with now.”

G. Allen Johnson is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Johnson is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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