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Penn men's fencing senior epee Justin Yoo is leaving Penn early to pursue his dream of competing in the Olympics.

Credit: Alec Druggan

Penn men’s fencing is primed for another great season. The group has both underclassmen and more experienced fencers who can contribute, not to mention three-time Ivy League Men’s Fencing Coach of the Year Andy Ma.

But the team will take a big hit with the absence of senior epee and captain Justin Yoo next semester.

Yoo will be taking time off from Penn as he trains to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

“I’ve wanted this since I was 10, when I found out that fencing was in the Olympics,” Yoo said. “Fencing really helped me through my younger years and coming to college, so I feel like this is something that I really want to do. It’s so hard to put into words how much this sport means to me.”

As Yoo alluded to, fencing is something that has been important to him for much of his life, but oddly enough, the Los Angeles native’s journey in the sport began in a unique way.

“I started when I was seven. My mom and I were at a mall, and there was a fencing demonstration there, and I was a pretty annoying kid, so she pushed me to watch it so she could go do her thing. And then I ended up really liking it.”

The instructor of that demonstration pointed Justin and his mother to Los Angeles International Fencing Center, a club run by the fencing coach of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team.

With Yoo’s sights now set on an Olympics appearance of his own, he will be bouncing back and forth between Los Angeles and Korea to train. However, he will also be spending a great deal of time traveling the world and fencing in different countries.

Credit: Alec Druggan and Sydney Loh

“There are many world cups; there’s like one every two weeks,” Yoo said. “So I’ll be in Vancouver, [Canada]; Doha, Qatar; Budapest, [Hungary]. It’s crazy; every two weeks I’ll be in a different continent. My coach is telling me that we’re gonna stay in some of the European countries and train there after all of the competitions are done.”

Yoo will find out whether or not he has made the Olympic team in April 2020, and regardless of the result, he plans to return to Penn and graduate in the fall of that same year.

As for the rest of men’s fencing, the team will surely miss the star senior in its 2019 season. Yoo has earned a spot on the All-American team during all three of his seasons with the Quakers and is a huge reason why the squad has won three consecutive Ivy League Championships.

While his teammates wish that Yoo could be with them for another Ivy title run, they understand how unique and special this opportunity is for him.

“[There are] a couple of people that have made the Olympics that fenced at other colleges, and we know them from fencing throughout that, so it’s pretty cool just to know one of those people,” senior sabre Julian Merchant said. “And then just to see someone that we’re training with and working with every day, for them to make it, it’s good on us to see that we’re at least helping on that level.”

With Yoo’s departure, the Red and Blue will lose a consistent performer and tough competitor. But they will also be losing a role model.

“He’s really good outside of the gym, also, just gathering everybody and making sure everybody’s having a pretty good time here at Penn, so he’s a great leader,” Merchant said.

With no more events on the team’s schedule until January, Yoo will not compete again for Penn, as he begins his training at the start of 2019. However, he will continue to practice with the team until the beginning of winter break.

Yoo has accomplished so much during his college career, both from a personal and team standpoint, and now, he has the chance to represent Penn and the U.S. on the biggest stage of all.