After Hamstring Injury Nearly Ended Fencing Career, PU Alum Thompson Making Return Trip to Olympics
After producing a breakthrough performance in the epee at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Soren Thompson was looking to make more history four years later at the Beijing Games.
The former Princeton University fencing star, who placed seventh in the men’s individual epee at Athens, the best U.S. result in the event since 1956 and the second-best all-time, had visions of an encore performance.
But right before the 2008 qualification process, Thompson, a 2005 Princeton alum, suffered an injury in training that knocked him out of Olympic consideration and left him fearing that he could be ultimately finished in the sport.
“I had a fully torn right hamstring; it was off the bone,” said Thompson, a native of San Diego, Calif. who was a four-time All-American and 2001 NCAA champion during his storied Princeton career.
“The doctors didn’t know how bad it was right way. There were six weeks before qualifiers. I competed in the initial qualifiers but it was so difficult and understandably my ranking started going down. It took a year before I started feeling better; I thought it could be all over.”
As a result, Thompson put fencing on the back-burner and devoted his energies to a job with Hycrete, a clean-tech company based in Northern Jersey.
In the fall of 2010, though, Thompson caught the Olympic bug. “The schedule of events for the Olympic qualifications came out and I thought if I want to do it again, I have to start,” said Thompson.
“I started doing a little bit of training everyday. The U.S. events went well and I did good enough in the international events.”
Thompson left his day job in April, 2011 to focus exclusively on fencing and kept doing well. This spring, he qualified to
represent the U.S in the epee in the upcoming London Olympics.
For Thompson, overcoming the hurdles he faced since 2008 makes his return to the Olympics all the sweeter.
“It has been a real ride, there have been a lot of ups and downs,” said Thompson, 31.
“I am highly motivated. It feels good. I had my own ideas about what would work and it all worked out better than I hoped. It is very satisfying to have that happen.”
In one critical respect, Thompson went his own way, deciding to go without a coach.
“A coach is a partner who can help you progress with a sport,” explained Thompson.
“I wanted to be in New York City and I didn’t find what I wanted in a coach. I had an idea of what I wanted to do. I have an incredible data base, I just need to execute. I have a fencing style based on an open approach. I like to do more bout-like competition drills in practice. It wouldn’t be long before I would be prompting a coach for different drills. I had my best competitive year so it worked being unorthodox.”
Thompson is drilling hard in the buildup to the London Games. He recently competed in an event in Buenos Aires where he helped the U.S. epee team take fourth and solidify its No. 1 overall world ranking. He is currently at a two-week U.S. training camp in Paris that will wrap up just before the July 27 Opening Ceremonies in London.
Having previous Olympic experience gives Thompson an extra boost of confidence.
“The Olympics is a very special event; it is a singular event in the way the athletes prepare and the pressure you face,” said Thompson.
“In 2004, I showed that I thrive in the Olympic environment. I made history; I was very happy with my preparation.”
As he looks ahead to the London games, Thompson believes he can make more history.
“I am a better fencer now; I want to improve on what I did in Athens,” said the 6’3, 181-pound Thompson.
“There is no limit to what I can achieve but that being said, fencing has a lot of great athletes and it is going to be tough. I need to put myself in a position to succeed and execute. I expect to be prepared.”
But that preparation doesn’t ensure success due to fencing’s inherent capriciousness.
“Fencing is a matchup sport as opposed to running,” said Thompson, noting his disappointment that there won’t be a men’s epee team competition at the London Games, a particular blow since the U.S. won the title at the 2011 World Championships.
“In track, you try to run your best time and the results fall within a certain range. In fencing, things jump all over the place, there are different styles and people match up against some better than others.”
As a result, Thompson is going to focus on perfecting his style. “The rankings don’t matter much, you see upsets all the time,” said Thompson.
“You have to bring your best game and know what you want to do no matter who you are going against.”
In making it back to the Olympics, Thompson has proven that doing things his way can be a route to success.