A Pitt Meadows teen is the best fencer in Canada with a sabre.
Thomas Greenwood reached that pinnacle during a competition in Meylan, France last month, on the European Cadet (under-17) circuit.
He finished third in an event where there were 126 cadet competitors. And, he learned afterward he was the second Canadian to ever medal on the European fencing circuit.
“That felt good – I was really happy,” he said. “I surprised myself big time – I was hoping for a top 16 finish.”
As his success in the event grew, he started to believe he could win it all. He was finally beaten in the semi-finals by a French national team member by a close score of 15-13.
In the sport of fencing, the sabre is unique in that competitors can score with the edge, and also with the point. Other fencing disciplines, epee and foil, allow points to be scored only with the point. The scoring system is electronic, so when the blade hits an opponent’s jacket a score is registered.
Later in January, Greenwood attended a Junior World Cup event in Arizona, where the Grade 11 student at Pitt Meadows secondary competed against under-21 athletes, and finished a low, for him, 76th out of 96 competitors. Greenwood explained he wanted to go up against college athletes at the World Cup, both for the competitive seasoning, and knowing that he could catch the eye of college recruiters.
“I went in for the experience and a lot of schools are there – to show them what I’ve got.”
Greenwood’s goal is a scholarship, and after his success in France the NCAA schools from the U.S. started to approach him. He is interested in Ohio State, which he said has an excellent fencing program, and was happy to hear the school is interested in him, too, and is following his career.
He still has another year at Pitt Meadows secondary.
“Next year will be big for both school and fencing.”
Fencing is a bit of an outlier in the sports world. Greenwood was a competitive lacrosse player, then when he was 12 his mother decided to expose him to something new.
“Mom put me in a learn-to-fence program, and I just took off with it.”
“It’s physical chess,” he explained. “It’s all about out-thinking your opponent.”
It doesn’t hurt to have a lightning quick lunging attack, or a longer reach than your opponent either. But it is a combination of a good game plan and physical execution that will make for a great fencer.
Greenwood said a frequent strategy for him is to change speeds.
“I change the tempo of my attacks and defence, and mess up the rhythm that they think they find.”
He started off with a recreational club, but now trains with the competitive Anaean fencing in Port Moody. His new coach is teaching him a Korean style that has been a serious challenge to European dominance of fencing – particularly in the sabre event. In Korea and Japan “fencers are rock stars,” he said.
“It’s not the typical, traditional type of fencing,” he said, and he credits learning the new style with his newfound success.
Like any high-level athlete, Greenwood’s training includes focused physical workouts in addition to practice. He works with weights to build leg strength and stamina.
The latter is particularly important because those tough elimination round matches can take up to 15 minutes, and exploding off their lines gets tiring.
His coach Jay Kim said Greenwood is dedicated and works hard when he’s training and has earned that number one ranking.
“He’s mentally really good, he’s good physically, and he respects me,” said Kim. “So he is easy to coach.”
The training and learning are obviously paying off, and he has had regular success. It was during the summer, finishing fifth in England at the Commonwealth Fencing Championships, that he started to see his results dramatically improving.
“That was a wake-up call for me – that this is something I can push for.”
There are more goals on the horizon. A major event will be 2019 Junior and Cadet Pan American Championships in Bogata, Columbia from Feb. 26 to March 3.
Greenwood will be training hard, and looking to live up to his new status as the best in his class in Canada.