Penn men's fencing freshman Michael Li might be new to the Red and Blue, but he's old to the sport.
Li, the left-handed foil prodigy from California, is already showing signs of dominance on the strip. His most recent effort was at the National American Conference where he placed in the top 20 fencers for foil after falling 15-8 in a close match in the round of 32.
A little bit of history: Li has been a fencer from the age of 8. His mother signed the Li brothers up for fencing after watching them sword fight with sticks for hours in the backyard pretending to be Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean. He was an immediate success and has continuously accomplished the goals he has set.
“At the time when we started, it was all about fun and not really about competing with each other,” Li said with a smile. “My coach then told me to compete because I had potential.”
In his first competition, at 9 years old, Li stared down the strip feeling nervous. After years of sweat and tears, he has found his place in fencing. Gracefully, with the flick of a wrist, he has left his competition in the dust.
“My first competition was nerve-wracking. I didn't know what to expect at all. All I wanted to do was win,” Li recalled.
Flash forward to his 2015-2016 season, where Li became one of the most internationally-renowned young fencers. At the beginning of that season he came in fifth in the Junior Olympic Fencing Championships, and things only got better from there. He began fencing in the younger age groups called the Cadet class, making it his goal to win the gold and move up the rankings. For the rest of the season, he made many top 10 appearances, and finished in the top 10 rankings five times in European competitions, two of which were first-place, gold medal runs.
Finally, Li received his chance to win the Junior Olympic Fencing Championships as a cadet. With a dominant performance, he claimed the gold and afterwards went to fence in the Cadet World Championships in Bourges, France where he again stole the show and finished in eighth place.
That brings us to today. The previously-ranked world No. 2 cadet foil fencer is currently ranked third in U.S. He is currently attending Penn and is dividing his free time playing for both the Penn Quakers and the U.S. National Fencing Team.
When it came to deciding where he wanted to go to college as a high school junior, he was impressed that Penn had one of the strongest men’s teams in the nation. Now, as a Quaker, he competes as the team's premier freshman foil fencer with a record of 9-2.
“Coach [Andy] Ma is one of the nicest coaches ever. He wants you to be the best fencer that you can possibly be. Fencing here at Penn helps me be a better fencer so I can then compete greater internationally,” Li said.
Now his goals involve Ivy League championships, NCAA championships, and the prospect of fencing for the United States in the Summer Olympics. Li wants to compete back at home in the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
“It's an amazing feeling to represent your country and compete on a global scale," Li said. "I feel like I have the whole nation behind me."