Making U.S. Olympic Fencing Squad as an Alternate, PU Alumna Van Brummen Ready to Contribute at Épée
TOGETHER IN TOKYO: Anna Van Brummen, right, and Kat Holmes display their intensity as they competed for the Princeton University women’s fencing team. Van Brummen ’17 is currently at the Tokyo Olympics as an alternate on the women’s épée team which also includes former Tiger teammate Holmes. Van Brummen, an NCAA individual épée champion at Princeton, was part of the bronze medal U.S. épée team at the World Cup in February, 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the one-year delay of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (Photo by Beverly Schaefer, provided courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)
By Justin Feil
Anna Van Brummen’s biggest challenge at the Tokyo Olympics is to remain ready for the United States women’s épée team competition.
It shouldn’t be a problem as the 2017 Princeton University graduate has spent the last five years preparing for this chance.
“I feel great about where I’m fencing,” said Van Brummen, a Houston, Texas, native who won the NCAA individual épée title in 2017, a first for the Tiger women’s program.
“And I feel great about where the rest of my team is fencing. I’m really excited. I have a really good feeling. I think we can do great.”
Van Brummen is an alternate on the women’s épée team which also includes former Princeton teammate Kat Holmes ’17. She didn’t compete in the individual women’s competition that was held July 23, but must be substituted in for one of the three épée spots when the team competition started on July 27.
“I don’t know when exactly,” said Van Brummen. “That’s my place. I’ll be subbed in at some point, I just don’t know when. It could be the gold medal bout, it could be any other bout, I just have to be ready.”
The team competition features nine bouts. While Van Brummen doesn’t expect to sub in for the anchor who would finish off the team competition, she knows she could be thrown in at any time.
“The challenges are just staying ready throughout the whole day,” said Van Brummen.
“So I have to be really ready and be really flexible. There are definitely times when they can be like, ‘We’ll put you in to push and make a last-ditch effort to score a lot of points.’ Or the opposite, maybe it’ll be, ‘Keep the advantage we have.’”
Van Brummen was part of the bronze medal U.S. épée team at the World Cup in February 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the one-year delay of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In four world cup events this year, the U.S. placed in the top three twice.
“I think there’s definitely a medal opportunity,” said Van Brummen. “That’s what we’re pushing for.”
Since taking 2016 off from Princeton to try out for the U.S. team, Van Brummen has spent an eventful five years. While she didn’t make that squad, the experience led to a new approach as she planned her future.
“I had decided not to make it a priority for me,” said Van Brummen of fencing.
“The year before, 2016, I had taken a year off from school to try to qualify for the Rio Olympics and I didn’t make it and I was heartbroken. I decided I’m going to make life choices not because of fencing – I love fencing and I’m always going to fence and see where it goes – but I’m going to structure my life according to some of my other interests.”
After graduating from Princeton with a degree in geoscience, Van Brummen headed to ETH Zurich in Switzerland to study for a master’s degree in geophysics. She went for a purely academic pursuit and was content putting serious fencing on hold, but never got far from it.
“I knew there was fencing, but I thought I’d take a more recreational approach to fencing while I was there,” said Van Brummen.
“It ended up that I visited the club, I got to know the people, it was a really great atmosphere, and they really encouraged me and pushed me. It’s a huge part of where I am. Because I went to Switzerland and got to train with people there I ended up making this team.”
In her first year while focusing on her studies, Van Brummen did not compete internationally. Others at the Zurich Fencing Club were and that started Van Brummen thinking about how much she missed it. It evolved from there and Van Brummen found her passion for international fencing rekindled as she started a job as an environmental consultant in California.
“I had a chance to gain a lot more experience and technical experience,” said Van Brummen.
“A huge part of fencing especially épée fencing is being able to perform under pressure. You can be the best technical fencer and not be able to compete and get international results. Just getting four more years of experience and having the chance to work with international coaches and gain a new sight of fencing that I learned when I was in Europe and now that I’m in California, I’ve been able to expand my game and deal with my nerves a lot more when I am in a high pressure situation.”
Van Brummen sits in a better spot than she was five years ago. She had to adjust her strategy and it led to a better outcome, including making the Olympic team.
“I’m excited to have made this team, and I’m excited to be where I am,” said Van Brummen.
“It’s not so much that I didn’t get my goal then and I got it now. I changed my goals and I think it’s the changing of goals that helped me make this team. It’s also changed the feeling of having made it or not made it. I feel so rewarded to have chance to fence alongside the girls that I’m fencing with. I’m proud of myself for having found a healthy outlook to my own fencing.”
The changes came after her disappointment in 2016. She switched her approach and how she evaluated progress and found it made a difference.
“Rather than set these goals of make this team, or get this result necessarily, I changed my goals to I want to fence well and I want to be proud of how much I’ve trained and how I’m fencing and how I approach these things,” said Van Brummen.
“Changing my goals from discreet results to more of a results process has helped me get here.”
Like other Olympians, Van Brummen had to wait a year later than usual for the Summer Olympics after the pandemic postponed them. She moved back to the United States when the Olympics were postponed, began working with a new coach and sustained her training while starting a job.
“I moved to California and I could train outside all year which was pretty spectacular just because the weather is so great,” said Van Brummen. “My summary would be it’s been different this year. It will be a different Games than a year ago, and I’m a different fencer. I don’t know that it’s better or worse.”
The U.S. épée team, which also includes former University of Notre Dame standouts, Kelley Hurley and Courtney Hurley, were spread out all over the country, but able to get together in the final weeks leading up to the Olympics for several training sessions. When not together physically, they worked on footwork together virtually over Zoom calls, and kept up with each other over group chats when they weren’t together. They will be together in Tokyo as they aim for a medal before Van Brummen will revisit her goals.
“My work is letting me take a lot of time off for this so there’s definitely going to be a work push for a while,” said Van Brummen.
“I’m still going to be fencing. I think I still have a lot of room to improve and I plan on seeing it through.”
Van Brummen has been through a long build-up that had her training while studying overseas and then starting a working career while earning her first trip to the Olympics. Her journey has her prepared to help the United States medal as she looks forward to her chance in Tokyo whenever that comes.
“I’ve heard there’s nothing quite like the Olympics to turn on that pressure,” said Van Brummen. “But I feel pretty ready.”