September 30, 2015

PU Fencer Holmes Earns 2 Golds at Pan Am Games, Providing Boost in Quest to Earn Spot in Olympics


TOP OF THE PODIUM: Princeton University fencer Katharine Holmes celebrates after winning the gold medal in the individual epee this summer at the Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada. Holmes, who has taken a leave of absence from Princeton to maximize her chances of making the U.S. squad for the 2016 Summer Olympics, also helped the U.S. to the team epee gold at the Pan Am Games. (Photo Courtesy of the Holmes Family)

Having entered Princeton University in the fall of 2011, Katharine Holmes was scheduled to graduate this past June.

But as classes started earlier this month for the 2015-16 school year, fencing star Holmes was still very much a part of the Princeton community.

Deciding to take a leave of absence after the 2013-14 season to maximize her chances of making the U.S. squad for the 2016 Summer Olympics, Holmes has been training and coaching with the Princeton fencing program.

“I feel that I have improved in leaps and bounds; I was training 2-3 hours before and now I am training 6-8 hours,” said Holmes, noting that she typically works with the Princeton team two days a week and then goes up to New York City three days.

“I have improved my technique and endurance. I am able to get rest that I couldn’t get in school. I was hoping I would see a result. I was a little shaky in the beginning but I found my stride.”

Holmes, a native of Washington, D.C., certainly hit her stride this summer at the Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada, winning gold in the individual epee and helping the U.S. to gold in the team epee event.

Coming into the competition, Holmes had the sense that she could produce a breakthrough.

“I felt confident, especially in the team competition,” said Holmes who was joined on the U.S. team by fellow Princeton fencer Anna Van Brummen along with Penn State alum Katarzyna Trozpek.

“In the individual event I was less confident but I felt strong. I really wanted it bad.”

Holmes got off to a shaky start in the individual competition, going 3-2 in pool bouts and finishing second in her six-woman group in advancing to the elimination bracket.

“I had come there from Moscow for the worlds so I was really tired,” said Holmes. “The first day was to get myself going physically.”

After surviving the first day of competition, Holmes got going. She topped Canada’s Leonora MacKinnon 14-12 in the Round of 16 before defeating Clara Di Tella of Argentina 15-6 in the quarterfinals and Brazil’s Nathalie Moellhausen 10-7 in the semis to earn a shot at gold.

In the final against Ramirez Peguero of the Dominican Republic, Holmes prevailed 15-14 in a topsy-turvy battle that went into overtime.

“I was so tired, I would get up and then she would come back,” said Holmes, reflecting on the gold medal match.

“In overtime, I was thinking that I was not going to lose. Overtime lasts one minute, I could give all I had. I didn’t realize I had the touch until the ref said it and raised my hand. The first thing I thought was relief, I did it. The excitement released at that point.”

Having earned individual gold, Holmes was excited to go for the team title. “I felt good, we had a good game plan,” said Holmes.

“We had never fenced as a team. Anna and I had fenced together at Princeton but the other had not. We were figuring out things as we were going.”

The trio got off to a good start, beating the Dominican Republic 45-33 in the quarterfinals to set up a clash with Brazil in the semis. The match with Brazil turned into a nailbiter as the U.S. trailed 13-11 early before Holmes came on at the end to help them pull out a dramatic 32-31 win.

“Against Brazil in semis, we were up three going into fourth but Brazil got six straight touches,” recalled Holmes.

“I was the anchor and the last time I anchored a U.S. team in a similar position, I lost. I thought I am going to win it this time. I started crying on the strip when it was over.”

In the final, the U.S. topped Venezuela 29-22 to earn gold. For Holmes, coming away with a pair of gold medals from the Pan Am Games was a big confidence builder as she starts the final push for a spot in the Olympics.

“The Pan Am games are a precursor to the Olympics, knowing I can do it is a big confidence builder,” said Holmes.

“I can handle the pressure. I can handle the crowds. I can handle the formalities.”

The selection process for the U.S. team puts the competitors under pressure for months as it comes down to the three athletes who earn the most points in international events over the course of the season. The team will be announced next April at the U.S. Nationals.

“I am not thinking so much about where I stand, the process is overwhelming,” said Holmes.

“My best result in a World Cup event is 10th, I want to make the top 8. I am looking at the smaller things. If I get that, it will mean I am doing the right things.”