Magazine article The New Yorker

Touche

Magazine article The New Yorker

Touche

Article excerpt

TOUCHE

Daryl Homer says that he lives in Harlem because "it's halfway between Mom and practice." Mom lives in Hudson Heights, near the Bronx, where Homer grew up; practice is at the Manhattan Fencing Center, on West Thirty-ninth Street, where, on a recent Friday night, he stretched while listening to the new Kanye West album on headphones. " 'Ultralight Beams'!" he said, a little too loudly. "This is excellence music. This is pump-up music."

Homer, who is twenty-five, will need pumping up in August, when he fences in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. (He also competed in 2012, when he was a college sophomore; he finished sixth.) Peter Westbrook, a retired six-time Olympian, is considered the Michael Jordan of American fencing. Keeth Smart, a silver medallist, is probably second in the pantheon. Fencers tend to peak in their late twenties or early thirties. "Daryl is definitely on track to be one of the all-time great American fencers," Smart said the other day. No American man has ever won an Olympic gold medal in fencing. In Rio, Homer might be our best shot.

Teddy Weller, a lanky redhead, entered the gym. Homer greeted him with a light punch. "He's my boy," Homer said. "We face each other a lot in competition, but we're friends. The irony is my family is from St. Thomas, and I fence for Team U.S.A., and he's from Rhode Island and fences for the Virgin Islands." Homer changed out of his warmup gear and into a white lame, which looks like a cross between a leotard and a bulletproof vest. Lames are electrically conductive; a body cord, connected to a scoreboard by a wire, registers every touch of an opponent's weapon.

"You wanna ref?" Homer asked Jeff Spear, another fencer on Team U.S.A. Weller and Homer put on their chainmail face masks, pointed their sabres at each other, and crouched in on-guard stances. "Ready, fence!" Spear said. Homer scuttled backward, parrying. When he spied an opening, he attacked, leaping through the air like a fighter in a kung-fu movie. Alex Dvorin, a fencer watching from the sidelines, said that the move is called a flunge: "Daryl has probably the best flunge in the world." (One YouTube video, "Daryl Homer: Epic Sabre Compilation," calls him the move's "undisputed master.")

There is not much "En garde!" or "Touche!" at the Manhattan Fencing Center, but there is a lot of nonsense-syllable celebration. "Bo-hai-oh!" Homer shouted, after winning a point with a deft flick of the wrist. "Fuck me," Weller said under his breath. …

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