Anna Van Brummen stands atop the podium after winning the women's epee competition at the Suzhou World Cup on Nov. 12, 2016 in Suzhou, China.
Anna van Brummen knows what confidence does for her fencing performance.
And her personal coach, Andrey Geva, who is also the U.S. national coach for epee, knows exactly what to say to get her confidence going.
“Before she puts on her mask, I say, ‘Smile,’” Geva told TeamUSA.org from Poland as the team wrapped up training for the World Fencing Championships, which run July 19-26 in Leipzig, Germany.
“I tell her to smile and then put on her mask, and then you can be herself,” Geva added. “Once she can be herself, she can do amazing things. Her style requires creativity.”
Van Brummen, a 22-year-old Houston native, created some international shockwaves last November when she won her first individual world cup title by defeating two top-10 women at the Suzhou World Cup in China. And she entered the event ranked 187th.
Van Brummen knocked off world bronze medalist Sarra Besbes of Tunisia 15-14 in the round of 16, and advanced past A-Lam Shin of Korea by the same score in the quarterfinals. She then exacted revenge against Sera Song of Korea — who had beaten her in two previous meetings — 15-10, and then beat Dzhoan Feybi Bezhura of Ukraine 15-13 for the first individual senior world cup gold medal for a U.S. woman in epee since the discipline was added to the Olympic program in 1996.
Pretty impressive for someone who only decided to enter the tournament two weeks before its deadline.
“Actually, I had taken the previous year off from Princeton trying to qualify for the Olympics in Rio,” van Brummen said. “Halfway through the year, it was pretty evident I wasn’t going to make the team, so I decided to concentrate on myself and improving, not on competition.
“When I got back to Princeton, I decided to sign up for the world cup in China and to see how it went, and it ended up being the best tournament of my life. The difference was that I was there for fun, and I just focused on one bout as it came up, to learn as much about each bout as possible.”
Van Brummen soared to No. 27 in the world and is now ready for her second individual berth at world championships.
Since her world cup gold, van Brummen added the 2017 NCAA championship to wrap up her career as the first Princeton woman to win an NCAA fencing title. Van Brummen defeated Princeton teammate and 2016 Olympian Katharine Holmes for the NCAA title. She also won a bronze medal at the 2015 NCAA championships.
Later this year, she’ll be working on a master’s degree in geophysics at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, studying another kind of shockwaves, these ones related to seismology.
Van Brummen is no stranger to success with the epee, but it hasn’t been an easy road, either. A 2014 junior world cup winner in Gothenburg, Sweden, her previous best at a senior world cup was 18th that same year in Barcelona, Spain.
Geva recalls meeting van Brummen as a 13- or 14-year-old at his Alliance Fencing Academy in Houston, and switching her from a pistol grip to a French grip.
“It means I have a longer handle and less strength, but more reach,” van Brummen explained. “I draw out my opponents by getting them to attack me and use my reach to counterattack.”
Her favorite moves include a duck under the opponent’s blade to a counterattack, and foot attacks.
Those moves are a world away from attending a sleepover with a friend as an 8-year-old that included a stop at her friend’s epee lesson. For van Brummen, the epee was love at first sight.
That love is taking her around the world on the biggest stages in fencing. And this time, in Germany, all she has remember is to keep smiling, one bout at a time.