Soren the swashbuckler

by Debra Kamin June 21, 2010


Mark our swords: Olympian fencer Soren Thompson will win gold at the International Maccabiah Games this month. But he’s probably more interested in checking out Israeli architecture.

When Soren Thompson was 7, his mother told her hairdresser about her athletic little boy who loved knights and medieval combat. The hairdresser suggested she enroll Soren in some local fencing classes. Seventeen years later, that little boy has been the 2001 Men’s Epee NCAA champion, set a record for American men with an 8th place finish at the 2003 World Championships, placed seventh at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, and this summer is off to Israel to compete in the 17th Maccabiah games.

Let’s hope his mother remembered to tip her stylist.

At first glance, Thompson seems like most other 24-year-olds. After graduating from Princeton University this past May, the 6-foot-3 blonde spent some time body-surfing in Newport Beach and making plans for a move to New York City next year. But in between working on his tan and searching for an apartment, Thompson plans to travel to Buenos Aires, Tel Aviv and possibly Turkey for fencing tournaments. “A lot of people are taking trips,” he says. “Mine are just a little more directed.”

Thompson is used to travel. As a youngster, he was home-schooled by his mother, which allowed him to commute twice a week to Los Angeles for training. And although the Del Mar native entered Torrey Pines High School as a freshman, he was often absent for tournaments and training sessions. He estimates his athletic career has taken him to 35 countries.

“There were months that I was in and out of class,” he admits. He laughs as he recalls typical Monday morning conversations with his friends – they would tell him about their weekend of catching waves at the beach, and he would talk about his whirlwind trip to Portugal or Cuba.

“I miss out on doing a lot of things here,” he says. “In San Diego you have the beaches and all this stuff and I’m doing an inside sport, which is kind of funny. But at the same time with the places that it’s taken me and the things I’ve been able to do with it, it’s definitely worth it.”

In 1999, Thompson took a year off between high school and college to train with the U.S. Olympic Team. While he
didn’t expect to qualify for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, he understood that practicing alongside some of the world’s best athletes would be an invaluable experience. His instincts paid off, and in March 2004 he helped secure a high enough ranking at the Team World Cups for the U.S. team to qualify for the 2004 Games. He took another year off, this time just before his senior year, and helped the U.S. team to a sixth place finish in Athens.

“The kid is highly disciplined,” says Gago Demirchian, Thompson’s long-time coach. “It’s not only that he’s talented, but he has a great ability to work.”

Athletic ability alone isn’t enough to make a great fencer. Because the sport is a one-on-one, strategy-based competition, the capacity to problem-solve, to predict your opponent’s next move and beat him to it, is also crucial. “He definitely has the psychological ability to deal with different problems,” Demirchian says of his star pupil.

Thompson says that he sometimes sees fencing as a puzzle he can’t wait to solve. “I like that, being on the strip and it’s just me against one other person,” he says. “It’s the person who develops the best strategy, who figures the other person out, is gonna be a winner.”

With his track record of international success, Thompson is an odds-on favorite at the Maccabiah Games.

“It’s gonna be a little bit of a different atmosphere,” he says. “It’s more excitement about the cultural aspect and actually getting to Israel and seeing that for the first time than about the competition.” An architectural history major at Princeton, Thompson tries to always see a little bit of the architecture in each country he visits. The building he’s most excited about seeing in Israel? The Dome of the Rock.

Don’t kid yourself, though – even though he is excited just to visit Israel and meet other Jewish athletes, Thompson still plans to win. “I’ll certainly try, you know?” he says.

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