In Penn history, 24 fencers have represented their school at the Olympic Games. If sophomore Justin Yoo has anything to say about it, he will be the 25th come the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“Hopefully down the road, [Tokyo] 2020 would be a blessing,” he said, “To make the Olympics, that would be amazing, but realistically, I am just trying to focus on smaller goals to make larger goals.”
Though modest, the sophomore epee has enjoyed a successful collegiate career so far. It’s hard not to be excited about his trajectory after a stellar freshman year. Among the titles he claimed last year are an NCAA Regional championship, second-team All-American, and a gold medal at the United States Collegiate Squad Championships. In total, the Los Angeles resident notched 46 dual match wins in his rookie season.
In a way, Yoo’s freshman year success could have been predicted. After all, he is an Olympian in his own right. In 2014, Yoo earned a fourth-place finish in the individual epee competition at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, falling to eventual silver medalist Linus Islas Flygare from Sweden. Other highlights from that year included winning a silver medal at the Cadet World Championships, immediately followed by a bronze at the Junior World Championships.
But even with that type of pedigree, Yoo, like the rest of campus, isn’t impervious to the effects of finals season.
“School has started to get heavier, and I have to devote more time to school work,” the sophomore joked. “I think that after winter break, I can come back and fence stronger for the team.”
Unlike the rest of campus, Yoo’s winter break will not be highlighted by relaxation. He will spend his winter break at the Los Angeles International Fencing Center (LAIFC), a powerhouse club in the USA Fencing community. Among the epee coaches that teach under LAIFC are Eric Hanson, member of seven US World Championship teams, and Gago Demirchian, a three-time national champion for Armenia.
For Yoo, winter training at LAIFC will be nothing less than intense.
“Every day I go...and we’ll train. Sometimes [my coach] will take me to the beach with other students and we’ll run two miles on the sand, then we’ll train back at our fencing club and normally spar each other and do [more] weights and conditioning.”
Winter break training is just one of those things Yoo feels he needs to make inroads on those “smaller goals.” Another thing the sophomore will look to add to his collegiate schedule: national competitions. He hopes to attend more senior World Cups, typically events where elite fencers like 2016 Olympian Jason Pryer can be found competing. For Justin, he hopes to make the men’s national team in the future, but, with fencing, you never can be certain.
“It’s really hard to tell the future,” Yoo said. “Fencing is such a random sport where something magically can click, and then you can start fencing better, or you can get injured, and then, you’re out of the season for a year, while other people are progressing.”
With illness and injury affecting his teammates last season, Yoo is no stranger to the unpredictability of fencing. Still, if he can avoid the roadblocks he described, don’t be surprised to see Justin wearing the Red, White and Blue in 2020.