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Living by the sword

Raleigh Hills teen fencing champion faces choice between college and Olympic gold


by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Sage Palmedo is considering Princeton University or training for the 2016 Olympic Games. As visceral and aggressive as fencing appears, for the sport’s more accomplished practitioners, it’s really the thought that counts.

“Probably the most appealing attribute to me is the mental part of it,” says 17-year-old Sage Palmedo. “The main component about winning is when someone outsmarts their opponent. It’s a lot like tennis. You set up an action that’s smart and works against another person’s action. That’s how you win.”

Fresh off a Jan. 4 victory in the women’s saber event at the Coupe Du Monde-20 Ans in Undine, Italy, Palmedo — who ranks No. 1 in the U.S. Fencing Association’s junior category and fifth among senior women’s saber fencers — shows no signs of slowing down after a banner year in 2013.

The Raleigh Hills resident in April scored a gold medal at the Junior World Championships, and in November struck gold again at the World Cup in Poland. Two weeks after that, she fell just short of the top spot at the Dormagen Saber Junior World Cup in Germany, placing seventh overall.

Her accumulated accolades secured Palmedo, a largely home-schooled high school senior, a spot representing the U.S. at the 2014 Junior World Championships in Bulgaria this April, which will be her third consecutive year representing the U.S. Complicating that pursuit is her recent acceptance by Princeton University, a school that’s no slouch in the National College Athletics Association’s fencing rankings.

It’s all pretty heady stuff for the tall, unassuming teenager, who is putting off her Olympics vs. Princeton decision until the spring.

“Everything is clicking for me,” she admits, praising coach Ed Korfanty. “I’ve worked so hard with Ed over the years. Everything he’s taught me and worked with me in practice has all come together in a general plan — a pattern I need to follow.”

“I feel like I get the sport more than I did before. I’m lucky to have natural athletic abilities. I’m taller than a lot of people, but it’s mostly mental stuff in fencing that matters,” she adds.

Saber rattler by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Raleigh Hills resident Sage Palmedo poses with the World Cup shes accumulated in her still-blossoming fencing career.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Palmedo has worked at it since she was 8 and a student at Oregon Episcopal School.

“It was an after-school program at OES,” she recalls. “I really just liked doing a lot of activities, including sports. My brother didn’t like many activities, but he liked fencing, so they put me in there too. I just liked it, and kept pursuing it to the next level.”

Learning at the Oregon Fencing Alliance gym, located on the Oregon Episcopal School campus off of Oleson Road, Palmedo connected with Korfanty and found another mentor in Olympic gold medalist Mariel Zagunis.

“She’s always been a role model of mine,” Palmedo says of Zagunis. “Mariel’s number one, so she can’t go any higher. I’ve gotten closer and closer to where she is, but she’s still a role model. I’ve trained with my role model for so many years, so it’s surreal.”

Zagunis, who still trains at the Raleigh Hills fencing club, has enjoyed seeing Palmedo’s progress over the years.

“She’s been doing well for a really long time,” Zagunis says. “To watch (young fencers) grow and continue to do well at higher and higher levels is really something to see. She’s a great person around the club because of her great work ethic. I’m extremely proud of her.

“She’s a really, really great girl,” she adds, “and I’m exicted to see where she goes with her career.”

Sage’s mom, Kelly, still marvels at her daughter’s rapid progress in fencing.

“Sage won her first nationals when she was 10 years old and would always come in (among) the top in the nation,” Kelly says. “It was hard to believe. The great thing was she just loved it. It made her feel good about herself. Now she has friends from all over the world.”

Tough call

Sage credits her quick rise to a mixture of toil and great influences.

“It’s due to a lot of hard work and a really great coach,” she says. “Without that, I would not be where I am today. Ed really understands the sport more than anyone else I’ve talked to.

“He just really knows the ins and outs of all that strategic planning you need to approach fencing with. The sport can change, the refereeing style can change over time. He usually knows how that change is going to happen and affect the sport, and implements them in his teaching,” she adds. “He’s a genius.”

Despite the flurry of victories and educational opportunities, Palmedo admits she’s wrestling with her decision about whether to defer her Princeton college admission to pursue a spot as first alternate on Team Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games.

“It’s a big question,” she says, noting her studies would not likely permit the necessary training time. “Most people say, ‘Go for the Olympics, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’ If it’s a serious goal of mine, I’ll have to take time off before college. If (school) doesn’t appeal to me as much in two years, it will be a sacrifice.”

Having unconditionally supportive parents, it turns out, doesn’t help her conundrum.

“They want me to do what in general makes me happy,” she says. “They also don’t want me to grow up too fast. So if I

can stay around Portland for a few more years, they’ll be happy for that.” by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Sage Palmedo displays her rapidly evolving fencing skills in one of her recent competitions.



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