RIO OLYMPICS 2016: Will St. Thomas’ Daryl Homer Be The First American Ever To Score Gold In Fencing?
Daryl Homer of St. Thomas
RIO DE JANEIRO — No one in the sport of fencing does what Daryl Homer does.
No one in the sport fences quite the way St. Thomas native Homer does.
No one in fencing combines the quickness, agility, creativity, balance, footwork — almost balletlike — aggression and power in quite the manner of Homer.
All that could help him make history in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Homer, who competes in saber, has the potential to be the first American male to win a gold medal in fencing.
“The really cool thing is there are five or six of us on the team who are trying to be the first person to do it,” Homer said. “I’m just privileged to be in position where I have the opportunity to do it. That’s what I’m working toward.”
Homer, 25, took a silver medal in the saber competition in the USA Fencing DI and Wheelchair National Championships in April.
He joined his teammates as they celebrated the official selection of the 2016 Olympic team in Richmond, Virginia. That was anticlimactic. All 17 spots had been determined through a series of qualifying matches.
At 5-feet,9-inches tall, Daryl Homer is shorter than the typical fencing stalwart. Most are over six feet tall. His quickness and athleticism are things most fencers do not carry into a tournament.
He competes with a swagger typically bereft in a sport in which an athlete’s face is covered. Homer, whose event is the saber, uses a blue or rainbow blade. Most competitors use the standard silver.
“I like to swag up the equipment a bit,” Homer said.
Born in St. Thomas, he is also an African-American, which is rare in fencing. He became interested in the sport when he was five after reading about it in a dictionary.
But this Olympiad, he is attempting to become one-of-a-kind: the first American male to win an Olympic gold medal in fencing.
Homer, who took sixth in his event at the London Games, became the first U.S. man to win a medal at the Senior World Championships in 2015, where he took silver, according to USFencing.org.
He’s friendly, personable, accommodating, confident, entertaining, colorful, outspoken and opinionated without being overbearing or obnoxious.
He gives the territory a good name. He does the same for fencing.
“I’m an anomaly,” he said. “I’m from the Virgin Islands and most people from the Virgin Islands aren’t fencing. On top of that, most people don’t see African-Americans fencing. On top of that, there’s still the perception Americans aren’t the leaders in the fencing world, and I think we’re starting to change that.”
Homer is in the vanguard of that movement.
He’s akin to the Russell Wilson and Steph Curry of fencing. Homer is easily undersized — “On a good day,” he said. — in a sport where most of his competitors are at least 6-2 or 6-3. He wins far more often than he loses, and he always finds a way to stand out.
His athletic ability is almost rare for a fencer, which he readily acknowledges.
“I’m probably one of the better athletes in the world in the sport,” he said. “I changed the game in terms of gracefulness, athleticism and risk-taking.”
In the world championships in Moscow in 2015, Homer won his semifinal match, earning the final point in a 15-14 outcome by launching himself — he practically flew across the strip — toward his opponent and whacking him in the side.
A smile broke across his face and the excitement in his voice grew as he described his winning move that day.
“The jumping move,” he said. “No one did that before me, the way I did it, where I jumped in and slapped him. No one does that. No one does that. I just have that New York bravado. I go for New York things. That was my New York move.
Homer discovered fencing when he was 5 years old. He saw the word “fencing” in a children’s dictionary with an illustration beside it.
“I run to my mom and tell her it’s a sport I want to start,” he said. “She blew me off at first. A couple of years later, we’re watching TV together, and there’s an ad where two guys are battling for a cab, and they’re fencing. My mom looks in the yellow pages, finds a program (the Peter Westbrook Foundation) — the founder of the program actually was in the TV ad — and that’s how I start.”
Almost immediately, Homer was recognized as a prodigy. His talent was so rare he received free lessons from Yury Gelman, four-time U.S. Olympic coach, national saber coach from 2000 to 2012 and coach at St. John’s University.
Homer’s mother is a forensic scientist for New York City, but she was a single mother to Homer and his sister growing up in the Bronx. The free lessons were invaluable.
Homer eventually went to St. John’s on a fencing scholarship, won two NCAA championships and earned a degree in advertising.
He finished sixth in the 2012 Olympics and was achingly close to a medal.
He’s trying to find that “.1 percent” that can be the difference between winning gold or not winning any medal.
“In Rio, I want to be unbelievably athletic, unbelievably fast, but controlled and then unbelievably technical,” he said. “I want to be at such a high level that even if you take action against me, I’m going to counter it because my instincts are going to take over.
“All the lessons, bouts, the experience of just going for the victory, the hunting, I hate to call it that, but that’s what it is, right? It’s the perfect balance between premeditation and instincts. That’s the first time I’ve been able to articulate all that.
“Everything needs to be ticking at the Games. Then, it’s bam, bam, bam.”
No one in fencing does “bam, bam, bam” quite like Daryl Homer.