PLOVDIV, Bulgaria — It took 22 years, but Team USA is on top of the world once again in the Junior Men’s Saber Team event.
The quartet of Colin Heathcock (Christian Bauer Academy), Will Morrill (Scarsdale Fencing Center), Cody Walter Ji (Nellya Fencers) and Lev BenAvram (Nazlymov Fencing Foundation, Brandeis University) won gold on Monday at the 2023 Junior & Cadet Fencing World Championships in Bulgaria.
It’s just the second ever gold medal and world championship in the Junior Men’s Saber Team event for Team USA. The other came in 2001 when the quartet of Timothy Hagamen, Jason Rogers OLY, Ivan Lee OLY and Colin Parker won gold in Gdańsk, Poland.
“I did not know about the history,” says Heathcock, who made history two days earlier by winning a gold in the Junior Men’s Saber individual event. “I try not to think about that. I tried not to let the outside pressure get to me, but yeah — it definitely means a lot to win.”
The win ends the second-longest gold medal drought in a Junior Team event for any weapon for Team USA. (The longest is the Junior Men’s Epee Team event, which Team USA has never won.)
And speaking of history: Since they started holding a Junior Men’s Saber Team event in 1998, no country had ever won gold in Junior, Cadet and Junior Team in the same year. Until now.
“It feels amazing. It's completely unbelievable,” says Men’s Saber Designated Coach Terrence Lasker (Nellya Fencers). “I’ve been trying to get these guys together for the whole season. This is the first time that we have the full team united, and it worked out great. It was a great day.”
Entering the tournament as the ninth-ranked team, four of Team USA’s five wins were upsets — over No. 8 Hungary, No. 1 Italy, No. 4 Romania and No. 3 Egypt.
For Ji, the gold medal was a bit of redemption after what he considers a disappointing performance in the Cadet and Junior individual competition — 19th and 35th.
“I think just bouncing back from my relatively poor performances the past two days and having a rough season — it’s good to end on a solid note,” he says, “and know that I do have the capacity to do well.”
For Morrill, the gold medal comes a day after he won gold in the Cadet Men’s Saber individual event, adding even more weight to his carry-on for the flight home.
While the Cadet medal was undeniably special, Morrill says nothing can match the energy of the team event.
“I love just the atmosphere of it,” he says. “Everybody is screaming, and it just feels so amazing when your teammate does something great or you do something great and you hear your teammates cheering.”
BenAvram, who was making his Junior & Cadet Worlds debut, was critical to Team USA’s flawless day. As the fourth on the team, he had to stay mentally prepared for the moment his coached called his name — which happened in two of Team USA’s five matches on Monday.
“I'm really proud of everyone did a great job,” he says. “For me personally, I was really proud of how I stayed ready for when the team needed me to come in.”
In Junior Women’s Saber team competition, the quartet of Magda Skarbonkiewicz, Tatiana Nazlymov, Zoe Kim and Kaitlyn Pak finished fifth. Their day included wins wins over China, Poland, Canada and France, and one loss: to Hungary in the quarterfinals.
The team anxiously watches Colin Heathcock in the final leg of the match. Photo by #BizziTeam
Junior Women’s Saber — Team Event
Junior Men’s Saber — Team Event
Photo by #BizziTeam
Find more than 100 great photos on Facebook.