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Junior Olympics 2024, Day 1 Recap: In the Queen City, Last Year’s Champ Defends Her Crown While Two More Win First Titles

02/16/2024, 7:45pm CST
By Bryan Wendell

Jaelyn Liu’s repeat as Junior Women’s Foil national champion and first Junior Olympics wins for Alexander Fray and Alexander Jeffords were among the highlights on Friday in Charlotte.

All photos by Serge Timacheff

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The only downside to winning a USA Fencing Junior Olympics Championships is that, a year later, all your opponents know you’re a Junior Olympics Champion. 

And so when 2023 Junior Women’s Foil National Champion Jaelyn Liu (Star Fencing Academy & Fencing Institute Of Texas) started her quest to defend her title in 2024, there was nowhere to hide.

That didn’t seem to faze Liu, who was the top-ranked fencer out of pools (6-0, +26) and didn’t allow double-digit touches to any of her DE opponents on the way to the 2024 National Championship — one of five gold medals awarded on Friday at the 2024 Junior Olympics and Parafencing NAC in Charlotte

“With everyone who has a name, once they start making results, everybody's looking at them like, ‘I want to beat them or I want to fence my best,’” Liu says. “I just try not to think of that. I may not know how they fence, but I'm going to do whatever I can to get a touch on them. My mentality is just don't think of it.”

Liu also tries not to think of the increasing crowd sizes as she gets deeper into a tournament. Unlike last year’s Junior Olympics in Denver, this year’s tournament has a pair of large risers to accommodate more spectators — and every seat was filled.

“I just tune people out,” she says. “That’s a good thing for me because I get distracted easily.”

Liu’s results this season have earned her a ticket on an even bigger stage: the 2024 Junior & Cadet Fencing World Championships in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The plan until then?

“There’s a few more competitions that I’m going to,” she says. “But mainly just rest and practice.”

In Junior Men’s Epee, Alexander Fray (Alliance Fencing Academy) has been working 11 years for this moment — which made the victory even sweeter.

“I've always been searching for the gold medal,” he says. “The closest I got was silver. And finally today, I fought all the way to the end.”

After outlasting the tournament’s largest field — exactly 400 fencers checked in for the event — Fray made it to the finals for his shot at a national title. As he waited for his bout to begin, Fray laid down with a towel over his face.

“It's to distract me from the adrenaline, calm me down, slow my heart down,” he says. “It's so that I refocus for each bout. I always listen to calming music so that I can focus up again.”

Alexander Jeffords (South Bay Fencing Academy & Johns Hopkins University) was feeling the adrenaline in his Junior Men’s Saber final. After battling back to tie the score at 14, Jeffords’ opponent hit Jeffords on the head and saw one light. But then Jeffords’ teammates and friends noticed the referee move to the video table instead of ending the bout.

“I was like, this is done. It’s one light,” he says. “There’s no coming back from this. And then I'm looking around, and everyone is eyeing the video table. And all of a sudden I'm like, ‘Oh, wait, something's happening. They shouldn't be looking at video for a one light touch.’ And then that's when they came back from the table and I still can't believe it.”

The referee saw that Jeffords’ opponent had crossed his feet and awarded him a red card, giving Jeffords the decisive touch and the 2024 national championship.

“I still can't believe that this has happened,” he says. “Over the past year, I put in just an incredible amount of work. And I’m really happy that it's paid off. And this is my win, but this is also the winner of all of my teammates back at Hopkins and all of my teammates back home at South Bay. My coaches Milos and Matteo and my entire support system has been there to help me grow as a fencer and a person.”

Junior Men's Saber — Photo by Serge Timacheff

Junior Men's Epee — Photo by Serge Timacheff

Junior Women's Foil — Photo by Serge Timacheff

Parafencing Women's Epee — Photo by Serge Timacheff

Parafencing Men's Epee — Photo by Serge Timacheff

Day 1 Results: The Top 8

Junior Women’s Foil

Gold and 2024 National Champion: Jaelyn Liu (Star Fencing Academy & Fencing Institute Of Texas)

Silver: Katherine Kim (Golubitsky Fencing Center)

Bronze: Rebecca Cho (Top Fencing Club)

Bronze: Chin-Yi Kong (Golden State Fencing Academy)

5th: Jia Chen (V Fencing Club)

6th: Joy Liu (Golubitsky Fencing Center)

7th: Ruoxi Sun (Silicon Valley Fencing Center)

8th: Kaitlyn Tan (Star Fencing Academy)

Junior Men’s Epee

Gold and 2024 National Champion: Alexander Fray (Alliance Fencing Academy)

Silver: Michael Bezrodnov (Medeo Fencing Club)

Bronze: Konstantin Vaysbukh (Fencers Club Inc.)

Bronze: Luka Loncar (LEO Fencing Club)

5th: Daniel Gao (Cavalier Fencing Club)

6th: Gabriel Carrier (Wasatch Fencing & Schoolhouse Fencing)

7th: Karol Karnas (Fencing Center Of Chicago)

8th: Daniel Lee (Elite Fencing Academy (VA) & Elite Fencing Academy (GA))

Junior Men’s Saber

Gold and 2024 National Champion: Alexander Jeffords (South Bay Fencing Academy & Johns Hopkins University)

Silver: Vasil Atanassov (Oregon Fencing Alliance)

Bronze: Ben Kogan (Dynamo Fencing Center Inc.)

Bronze: Eric Kwalwasser (Stamford Fencing Center, LLC)

5th: Zachary Shoman (Manhattan Fencing Center)

6th: Noah Shoman (Manhattan Fencing Center)

7th: Nazir Primus (Peter Westbrook Foundation & Fencers Club Inc.)

8th: Hayden Le (Phoenix Fencing Academy & Spartak)

Parafencing Men’s Epee

Gold: Tareq Alqallaf (Zeljkovic Fencing Academy)

Silver: Abe Kaplan (Greensboro Fencing Academy & Invictus Fencing)

Bronze: Ryan Schmidke (Mission Fencing Center)

Bronze: Josh Russell (Virginia)

5th: Gregory Tyler (Orange County International Fencers Club)

6th: Rick Swauger (Columbus International Fencing Academy)

7th: Timothy Birt (Shepherd Swords Fencing Club & Auburn Fencing Club)

8th: Stephen Burch, Jr. (Mission Fencing Center)

Parafencing Women’s Epee

Gold: Jataya Taylor (Denver Fencing Center & Invictus Fencing)

Silver: Victoria Isaacson (The Phoenix Center & Rogue Fencing Academy)

Bronze: Olivia Scott (Louisville Fencing Center, Inc.)

Day 1 Photo Gallery

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Tag(s): Updates  Junior Olympics 2024