Jake Hoyle celebrates after winning bronze at the Qatar Grand Prix on Jan. 27, 2019 in Doha, Qatar.
Jake Hoyle was the kind of college graduate that major companies can’t wait to hire.
A Columbia University grad, Hoyle earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and business management. Along with his high GPA and Ivy League education, Hoyle emerged from relative obscurity to win back-to-back NCAA championships in epee fencing from 2015-16.
He was in position to command a high salary from his choice of jobs. But first he wanted some advice.
“He sat down and he said, ‘Coach, do you think I can make the Olympics?’” recalls Columbia fencing coach Michael Aufrichtig. “Here’s somebody like, ‘Do I go for the great job or do I try for the Olympics?’
“And I kind of joke around and say at that moment I knew I was probably costing him a lot of money short term, right? But I said, ‘Jake, I really feel you can (make the Olympic team),’ and I really believed it.”
At one time, Hoyle was such an unknown in fencing that he tried convincing college coaches who didn’t offer him a scholarship out of high school that he was at least good enough to earn a roster spot on their teams.
Now 24, Hoyle has established himself as one of the best American fencers. He’s posting results that haven’t been seen by an American man in nearly a decade, and as he looks to qualify for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, Hoyle’s decision to hold off on getting a full-time job has worked out even better than imagined.
“I don’t see any reason why the U.S. couldn’t win a medal in Tokyo,” said Hoyle, a Philadelphia native who now lives and trains in New York City.
In mid-February, Hoyle became the first American men’s epee fencer to win two medals on the circuit in a single season since Seth Kelsey in 2010.
After earning a bronze medal at the Doha Grand Prix on Jan. 27 — the first for a U.S. man since Kelsey in 2011 — Hoyle took bronze at the Vancouver World Cup on Feb. 9 — the first for a U.S. man since Kelsey in 2010 — to continue his unexpected rise in the sport. He previously won a pair of medals at the 2018 Pan American Championships — a team gold and a bronze in the individual competition.
Hoyle moved up to No. 9 in the world rankings following his bronze at the Vancouver World Cup, and he stands atop the USA Fencing Senior Men’s Épée points standings.
As a sign of how much Hoyle has improved over the years, he was ranked so low in his age group while in high school that college fencing coaches didn’t bother recruiting him.
“There was really no reason for anyone to recruit me to be honest,” Hoyle said. “I didn’t have any offers, but it’s not like I didn’t understand why.”
Growing up in a Philadelphia suburb, Hoyle was introduced to fencing when a middle school club he was involved in held a couple weeks of fencing lessons. Hoyle joined a fencing club soon afterward, and he and a handful of friends began setting up fencing strips on the floor of their school cafeteria to practice.
“After I got the basics taught to me a couple weeks in, it was clear that I kind of had a talent and the coach told me so,” Hoyle said. “And so I started taking it pretty seriously very early on.”
Still, Hoyle was overlooked during the recruiting process. He ended up attending Columbia thanks to former University of Pennsylvania coach Dave Micahnik recommending him to Aufrichtig.
“(Micahnik) called me for two things. First of all, congratulations on the new job because I’d been on the job now for two months,” Aufrichtig said. “And he said, ‘Second, I never thought I’d do this, but I’m going to recommend someone to Columbia.’
“So here’s the former UPenn coach calling me up, and he gave me the name Jake Hoyle. That was really the first time I’d heard of Jake.”
During their first meeting, Hoyle told Aufrichtig that his goal was to be an All-American at Columbia. However, Hoyle far exceeded his own expectations, winning his first national championship as a junior and then defending his title a year later as a senior.
“I’ll be honest, I surprised myself a little bit with that first one. That was really like my breakout result,” Hoyle said. “It was the first really, really big result I ever had.”
Hoyle credits his transformation as a fencer to his unorthodox training with legendary Columbia coach Aladar Kogler, who started working with Hoyle during his freshman year.
Aufrichtig called the 86-year-old Kogler a “Jedi master.” Kogler has trained Olympic and world championship fencers for decades, and he formed an immediate bond with Hoyle.
“At the beginning, it was basically him breaking me down to a beginner and re-teaching me every technical move in the book,” Hoyle said. “So like for the first month that I worked with him we just did a straight extension with your arm.
“That’s all we did over and over again for 20 minutes a day every day for months.”
Hoyle still trains six days a week with Kogler, though their workouts focus more on Hoyle’s mentality than his technical skills. There are some workouts in which Kogler doesn’t have Hoyle touch an epee at all and instead has him just meditate.
As unexpected as it has been, has Hoyle’s development from an overlooked high school fencer into an Olympic hopeful surprised Aufrichtig? Actually no.
“You see people and you always hope that they will be able to accomplish their dreams based off what they give to their training, what they give to their sport, what they give to their team,” Aufrichtig said.
“So if there’s anybody that I would want to accomplish those dreams, it would be him.”