|(L-R) Daryl Homer (silver), Alexey Yakimenko of Russia (gold), Max Hartung of Germany (bronze) and Tiberiu Dolniceanu of Romania (bronze) stand atop the men's saber podium at the FIE Senior World Championships on July 14, 2015 in Moscow.
(Moscow, Russia) – London Olympian Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y.) put his name in the history books on Tuesday when he won a silver medal at the Senior World Championships, becoming the first U.S. man ever to win a medal in saber at Senior Worlds.
Homer joins an elite list of fencers as only two U.S. men have ever won individual medals at Senior Worlds – 2013 Senior World Champion Miles Chamley-Watson (New York City) and 2010 Senior World bronze medalist Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.) – with both wins coming in foil.
In addition, only three women’s saber fencers have medaled individually at the Senior World Championships and each went on to win Olympic individual medals with Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore.) winning back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2008, Sada Jacobson (Atlanta, Ga.) taking silver in 2008 and bronze in 2004 and Becca Ward (Washington, D.C.) claiming bronze in 2008.
Indeed, it’s not the historical significance that reached Homer first about his accomplishment – it was the impact that the win would have on his bid to qualify for a second Olympic Team where he hopes to reach the podium after placing sixth in London.
“The interesting thing is that I’ve just been so amped about requalifying for the Olympic Games that it really hasn’t sank in that I was second here yet. It’s really more about knowing that I’m 90% qualified for the Olympic Games now. Yes, it feels great seeing my name that close to the top, but it really hasn’t sunk in yet,” Homer said after receiving his silver medal.
Ranked 10th in the world going into the tournament, Homer was seeded ninth in the tournament and got to work quickly with a 15-6 win over Ahmed Amr (EGY) in the table of 64 and went on a five-touch run in the second period before closing out his second victory of the day against Sandro Bazadze (GEO).
In the table of 16, Homer kept fans on their toes when he went down to the wire against Bolade Apithy (FRA), scoring two touches to finish the bout, 15-14.
The win would put Homer into the quarter-finals against World No. 1 Bongil Gu (KOR) who has always been a frustrating opponent for Homer.
“The last two times I’ve fenced him I led up to 10 and then I blew it both times. So, this time, I tried to make sure that, once I had, 10, 11, 12, 13, I knew that this dude is not going to change and I knew that he was not going to change and continuing to power through and to control your fencing. He’s very good, but he’s also very predictable,” said Homer who was tied with Gu at nine in the second period, but outscored the Korean, 6-2, for a 15-11 win that would secure him a position in the semifinals and his first Senior World medal – an achievement he took a moment to enjoy on the strip.
“You definitely take a moment to enjoy it. I have a Cadet World medal. I have two Junior World medals, so, what was missing was a Senior World medal and I felt very conscious of that. I knew that and it was kind of aggravating to an extent. I had this fear that I would never hit it and I would never get it. So I definitely took a second to say ‘I finally have it,’” Homer said.
After a two-hour break, Homer returned to the final strip where he would take on two-time reigning Senior World bronze medalist Tiberiu Dolniceanu (ROU). The two are frequent opponents with Homer holding a 3-2 edge in their rivalry, including a win during their last matchup in the table of 16 at the Absolute Fencing Gear® New York Grand Prix in December.
Although Dolniceanu held two- or three-touch leads at points in the bout, Homer said he had confidence that he could produce the win.
“Most of our matches go that way. He gets up early and I kind of claw my way back in. But it’s about staying in the moment and fighting for touches you know you can get and putting yourself in high percentage situations. I think in the beginning of the match I was putting myself in lower percentage situations. And it was important that I start putting myself in higher percentage situations and things I knew I could score on,” Homer said. “I’ve been working with Karen Cogan, a sports psychologist at the USOC, and I’ve been working with her non-stop. That’s all we’ve been doing and I have mindfulness meditation tapes that are simulating situations like that, so I’ve been there before, so I’m just ready to keep grinding and keep scrapping those touches out because that’s my level and I have to fence at my level."
With Dolniceanu up, 14-13, Homer scored twice for a 15-14 win and a position in the gold medal final.
“It’s 90% mental. Because, at that level, everyone is able to parry. Everyone is able to attack, but it’s making sure that you’re in the right head space and being able to score consistently,” Homer said. “There are plenty of times today where I lost touches where a lot of people might have thought they were stupid or two big of a risk, but I felt comfortable taking those risks, but I knew that I could keep going. You have to be confident in what you’re doing and you have to know that you’re strong and you have to be able to lose a touch and know that you lost that one touch, but let me get back and do something else.”
Homer celebrated the win with his lifelong coach, Yury Gelman (Brooklyn, N.Y.) who coached Team USA to a silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Games as well.
“Yury’s like a father to me. He’s coached me since I was 11-years-old. He’s been my only coach. He’s believed in me steadfast even when people have written me off and he has an unparalleled knowledge of fencing … There were times today when I’m sure that you could see I looked at Yury like ‘What do you think? What do you think I should be doing?’ That Dolniceanu bout I don’t win if I don’t follow Yury’s instructions. He’s given me a canvas and allows me to paint it and it’s really helpful to have someone on the sidelines who can give you another perspective,” Homer said.
In the final, Homer would fence former World No. 1 Alexey Yakimenko – a 2014 Senior World bronze medalist who was following his Russian teammate Sofya Velikaya who had just won her second World title in front of an exuberant crowd.
Yakimenko took an early lead and Homer fought back, but couldn’t hold off the Russian who went on to win the bout, 15-5.
“I’ve been fencing Alexey at camp all week and I fenced really well against him at practice and I think he was super super sharp and, obviously, the World Championships are in Russia and he was geeked up and ready to go and I can’t really say anything other than that,” Homer said. “He fenced a great match. He went for a lot of actions and actually he fenced very similarly to how I was fencing people earlier in the day. He had a very good tactical read on how I was fencing and a confident game plan.”
Homer celebrated his success with his teammates, including Chamley-Watson, Zagunis and Meinhardt who were among the loud Team USA contingent who encouraged Homer throughout the day.
“There were times when I felt like my teammates kind of powered me through. I heard them over Yury at times and it was just really great to be one team and to be together and to fight for each other,” Homer said. “When you’ve been on these teams long enough you kind of see these same people over and over and, even if you don’t like each other at first, you form relationships with them and exchange tips and secrets.”
Homer also noted that his teammates’ successes throughout the season served as motivation.
“To be honest, beyond Miles winning World Championships, Race’s season has been inspiring to me. He’s just kicked ass. Daga [Wozniak]’s destroyed things. Obviously Mariel’s been on every podium. Lee Kiefer dominates whenever she wants to it seems. Nzingha [Prescod] wins Grand Prixes and is understated it seems so I kind of see these guys and I’m kind of like ‘I need to get my accomplishments up like you guys because I’m not doing anything!” Homer laughed. “So I constantly feel like I’m trying to keep up with the other weapons and, yeah, I know it’s weird, but I’m constantly like ‘How are those guys doing?’ I need to do better too.”
On Thursday, Homer will return to competition in the team event where he will fence for a chance at another medal with teammates Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn, Mass.), Jeff Spear (Wynantskill, N.Y.) and Peter Souders (Silver Spring, Md.).
In the earlier rounds, Spear and Dershwitz both lost close bouts in the table of 64.
Spear, Homer’s teammate from the 2012 Olympic Games, was tied at 12 against Kenta Tokunan (JPN), but was outscored in the final touches as Tokunan took the bout, 15-13.
Dershwitz, who won both Junior Worlds and the Senior Pan Ams in April, drew his nemesis – 2010 Senior World Champion Woo Young Won (KOR) in the table of 64. The two have fenced five times in just over a year with each battle being close. This one would be no exception as the bout came down to the final touch with Won claiming a 15-14 win.
Souders fenced on Monday, but did not advance to the second day after being knocked out by Dershwitz in the preliminary table of 64.
In the women’s individual saber event, three members of Team USA advanced to the table of 16.
Zagunis came to Moscow looking for a third individual Senior World title and opened the day with strong wins in the table of 64 over Anna Varhelyi (HUN) and Gabriella Page (CAN) by 15-6 and 15-7 scores, respectively.
In the table of 16, Zagunis fenced 2014 Junior World Champion Anna Marton (HUN) – one of the sport’s rising new stars who Zagunis defeated, 15-14, at the Gent World Cup earlier this season where Marton took bronze and Zagunis won silver. This time, Marton went on a five-touch run earlier in the bout to put Zagunis at a 6-2 deficit before Zagunis powered back with five touches to shrink Marton’s lead to 8-7 by the break. Marton controlled the second period, however, where she held Zagunis to two touches for a 15-9 win.
“After a disappointing result, whether it’s World Championships or a World Cup or any competition that I’m in, I always try to learn from what I did wrong and study the video of my mistakes and my opponents and make sure I’m more prepared for the next one,” Zagunis said. “It wasn’t a good day today, but at least Team USA came home with a silver medal which is really amazing and historic. I’m really happy for Daryl and I’m happy that we could end today on a high note for us.”
In addition to Zagunis’s 10th place result, London Olympian Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J.) and Ibtihaj Muhammad (Maplewood, N.J.) placed 12th and 13th, respectively.
Ranked No. 5 in the world at the start of the day, Wozniak fenced a blistering opening period against Tamara Pochekutova (KAZ), outscoring her opponent, 8-2. Pochekutova came back in the second period, but couldn’t catch Wozniak who won the bout, 15-13.
In the table of 32, Wozniak led from the start and went on to defeat Laia Vila (ESP), 15-12.
Wozniak drew Vassiliki Vougiouka (GRE) who, like Wozniak, finished in the top eight at both the 2012 Olympic Games and the 2014 Senior Worlds. Wozniak won their last bout at the Athens World Cup earlier this season en route to winning bronze and opened with an 8-4 first period, but Vougiouka came back in the second to take a 14-13 lead. Although Wozniak scored once to tie the bout, Vougiouka picked up the last touch for a 15-14 win.
Muhammad fenced Angelika Wator (POL) in the table of 64 and found herself down by two touches at 11-9, but replied with six unanswered touches to close out a 15-11 win.
Eliza Stone (Chicago, Ill.), a gold medalist at the 2014 Senior World Championships with Zagunis, Wozniak and Muhammad in the team event, defeated Loreta Gulotta (ITA), 15-9, in the 64, but an early loss in the pool rounds meant Stone would fence 2014 Senior World bronze medalist Yana Egorian (RUS) in the table of 32. Stone scored four times in each half before losing to Egorian, 15-8.
Top eight and U.S. results are as follows:
Men’s Individual Saber Senior World Championships
1. Alexey Yakimenko (RUS)
2. Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y.)
3. Max Hartung (GER)
3. Tiberiu Dolniceanu (ROU)
5. Bongil Gu (KOR)
6. Aron Szilagyi (HUN)
7. Junghwan Kim (KOR)
8. Eunseok Oh (KOR)
41. Jeff Spear (Wynantskill, N.Y.)
54. Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn, Mass.)
75. Peter Souders (Silver Spring, Md.)
Women’s Individual Saber Senior World Championships
1. Sofya Velikaya (RUS)
2. Cecilia Berder (FRA)
3. Anna Marton (HUN)
3. Chen Shen (CHN)
5. Aleksandra Socha
6. Vassiliki Vougiouka (GRE)
7. Azza Besbes (TUN)
8. Seons Hwang (KOR)
10. Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore.)
12. Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J.)
13. Ibtihaj Muhammad (Maplewood, N.J.)
25. Eliza Stone (Chicago, Ill.)