July 21, 2021

After Frustrating Results in Olympic Debut at Rio Games, PU Fencing Alumna Holmes Hungry for Medals in Tokyo

MEDAL HUNT: Katherine Holmes displays the gold medal she earned for winning the individual epee at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. Former Princeton University women’s fencing standout Holmes ’17 also helped the U.S. to gold in the team epee at the competition. Previously, she had helped the U.S. win the team epee at the 2018 World Championships. Next week, Holmes will be fencing for the U.S. at the Tokyo Olympics in both epee competitions, hoping to add to her medal collection. (Photo provided courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

By Bill Alden

While Princeton University fencing standout Kat Holmes was thrilled to compete in the epee in the 2016 Rio Olympics, she was left with a bitter taste in her mouth after the competition.

“My team and I lost in overtime for the medal round so we knew we had to go for another one,” said Holmes, who helped the U.S. place fifth in the team epee at Rio and took 25th herself in the individual competition.

Holmes returned to Princeton after the Olympics for the 2016-17 school year to compete in her senior season and earn her neuroscience degree. A native of Washington, D.C., Holmes ended up as a four-time All-American and All-Ivy League fencer during her Tiger career.

Staying in international competition, Holmes used that Olympic disappointment to fuel a gold medal performance in the team epee at the 2018 World Championships in Wuxi, China along with the Hurley sisters, Kelley and Courtney.

“I think before we knew that we could win gold but that really changed it to now we believed that we can,” said Holmes reflecting on the victory which saw her take the anchor role for the team.

“It is a very subtle dichotomy but the difference between knowing and believing is really huge because one has that emotional salience that really carries it forward.”

Now, Holmes, 28, is carrying forward her dreams of medalling at the Olympics as she will be representing the U.S. in the individual and team epee at the upcoming Tokyo Summer Games.

Earning the trip to Tokyo has been an arduous process for Holmes, who was accepted to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai and had planned to start there last fall after the 2020 Olympic push.

But the pandemic halted competition in March, 2020 and Holmes deferred medical school to keep training for the Tokyo Olympics. She qualified for the U.S. squad with a top-64 finish at the Kazan World Cup this March.

“It was the longest qualification process, it is relief at first because there was so much pressure for so long,” said Holmes.

“It is almost two full years of pressure of looking to make an Olympic team. That sense of relief was overwhelming. When I qualified for my first team it was just overwhelming joy and happiness. This was oh my god, thank god it is over.”

During the pandemic, Holmes had to be creative to get in her training.

“I couldn’t use the Princeton gym until February, I couldn’t use the weight room,” recalled Holmes.

“Everything was closed. My coach [Zoltan Dudas] said grab some weights no one else is using them, you can bring them home. I live across Route 1 in Princeton Junction. I train right here. I was taking lessons in his basement. I looked at it that if I am going to have an extra year, I better make the most of it. I would still have preferred to continue last summer.”

Over the last year, Holmes put a greater emphasis on weight lifting to help her get better, working through the Future exercise app with former Princeton strength coach Matt Fleekop.

“He can talk to me thorough the app, it made it much more interactive,” said the 5’11, 175-pound Holmes.

“They have heart rate monitoring along with it. It is really more sports specific because I was able to look at my heart rate when I fence and when I train and simulate different types of competition based on heart rate flow. I feel like that has really given me a leg up going into this Olympics. I am definitely in the best shape I could possibly be in.”

With things opening up this spring, Holmes has been able to diversify her workouts.

“I still lift in my apartment, I have basically built a home gym with the equipment,” said Holmes.

“In season when the students were coming to Princeton, I was fencing with them but now I have been going into New York City. Normally I will go into New York on Mondays and Wednesdays in the
morning and I will fence for two hours. After that, I will come back, take a break and I will take a lesson, lift, and condition.”

With the athletes in Tokyo being limited to the Olympic Village and their venues due to COVID-19 concerns, Holmes believes that will help her hone in on the competition that will take place in a Tokyo suburb at a hall in the Makuhari Messe, one of Japan’s largest convention centers.

“Their protocols are super strict but I am also vaccinated so it is a little less concerning for me,” said Holmes, who will be competing in the individual epee from July 23-24 and the team epee from July 26-27.

“Basically, they are like wear your mask at all times. It is more like a business trip in a way, it is going to enable me to be more focused.”

Holmes is confident that her previous Olympic experience will also help her take care of business in Tokyo.

“I know what to expect and how to filter distractions, I think that will help me,” said Holmes.

“It is going to be different distractions but I think it is really going to help me focus on what I need to do to succeed.”

In order to succeed in the individual epee, Holmes will be relying on her vast international experience and intense preparation to help her deal with the pressure on the strip.

“It is staying focused, I have known everyone in the field for so, so long,” said Holmes.

“I have been doing video review and lots of prep, just trying to put myself in the best situation to succeed on that day and then keeping the nerves in check.”

As for the team epee, Holmes and the Hurley sisters, who were both fencing standouts at the University of Notre Dame, feel they have put themselves in position to win the competition.

“We would be happy with a medal of any color but we won’t be satisfied unless it is gold,” said Holmes.

“Over the past couple of years they have become two of my best friends. When you share such intense experiences with people, they are the only two people who truly, truly understand some of the most emotional things I have ever been through. It is the same for me in their regard in a lot of ways. We don’t live in the same place, we don’t see each other on a day-to-day basis but we understand each other in an innate way that almost nobody else does.”