After speeding the Crimson team to its first ever NCAA National Fencing Championship, Harvard fencers Emily Cross and Benji Ungar have proved their worth again, beating professional competitors to take home a medal each at the World Junior Fencing Championship in Taebacek City, South Korea.
Cross was awarded a second consecutive gold medal in Women’s Foil, rising from a tenth-place ranking after the preliminaries to take an easy 15-5 victory over Arianna Errigo of Italy in the finals.
Ungar, seeded ninth after the preliminaries, defeated Ciprian Lapuste of Romania 15-9 to advance to the Men’s Epee semifinals, in which he fell to Feng Wang of China by the same score, making him a bronze medalist.
“Benji took his fencing to the next level this year,” Harvard coach Peter Brand said. “He really knew what he wanted and being on this team really energized him too.
“And with Emily it’s just a steady stream. She’s still on the upswing.”
“The difference between [Emily] and most fencers is that she’s very consistent and able to perform under nerve pressure better than anyone I’ve ever fenced with before,” said Chloe Stinetorf, co-captain of the women’s team.
“She’s also a really smart fencer, which I think is something that’s also true about Benji,” Stinetorf added. “They’re dynamic and can change what they’re doing on the strip.”
Cross said that her most challenging opponent this year was not Errigo, whom she has now defeated in the last two years running, but Aida Chanaeva of Russia, who she managed to beat 15-14 in the quarterfinals.
“I knew that would be a really tough bout and I’ve always had a really tough time fencing her,” Cross said. “After I won that and got into the semifinals I actually began to think I could go on to win it.”
She praised Harvard’s fencing program and its coaching.
“The training environment here is very different to what it was at home,” she said. “Even though there are fewer people here to fence, they’re a lot more motivated and it’s a lot friendlier and more intense.
“I actually think my fencing has gotten better here, which is not true of most college fencers.”
Ungar has had an impressive season too, from his gold in epee in NCAAs to a victory in the January World Cup in Germany that included a win over Steffen Launer, the eventual gold medalist at the World Junior Championships.
“Benji beat Launer, and actually beat him quite soundly,” Brand said of the earlier World Cup. “But every competition poses its own dilemmas. He is definitely one of the top three junior fencers in the world.”
Co-captain of the men’s fencing team David Jakus said of Ungar’s “amazing result” that the team had been “expecting him to do well.”
“He’s been training all year,” Jakus said. “So this is a well-deserved medal for him.”
Brand mentioned the fencing future of the two sophomores, who will both be 20 next year and too old for the Junior Championships anymore, but could throw themselves in with the big fish in the Adult Championships.
“They will have to make a decision about whether they want to move on to the next level or focus on fencing nationally and for the [Harvard] team,” he said. “That will be something they will be thinking about over the summer.”
Cross will probably concentrate mainly on the Crimson, having just been elected next year’s co-captain of the women’s team.
“They’re both good enough to train and continue into [Adults],” she said. “But they’re both also pre-med and have a lot on their plates. Still, you never know.”