The future of the Harvard men’s fencing team is in good gloves. Freshman Jerry Chang slashed his way to gold this weekend, topping a field of 162 fencers in the men’s junior foil event at the November North American Cup in Virginia Beach, Va., on Saturday. Chang also placed third in the senior division of the North American Cup on Monday.
In the junior event final, Chang mounted a lead early in the bout and held on to defeat Penn State freshman Nobuo Bravo, 15-12. On Monday, Chang made his way to the senior semifinal before falling to 2008 and 2012 U.S. Olympian Gerek Meinhardt of Notre Dame, 15-6.
“What’s impressed me the most about [Chang] is his hard work and love for the sport of fencing,” Crimson coach Peter Brand said. “You can obviously see that from his current results, which are probably the best results he’s had since he started fencing.”
It is not the first time that Chang has earned a top-podium finish at the North American Cup, a series organized by USA Fencing. Chang’s victory this weekend backed up his individual and team U-19 foil titles at the July North American Cup in Anaheim, Calif., this summer. It is also the second time in a row in which Chang has finished in the top-three at a senior North American Cup event. Chang is ranked fourth among U.S. junior foil fencers and eighth among all U.S. foil fencers.
Chang won seven bouts on Saturday by a combined score of 105-63 to capture the gold medal. In his first three rounds, Chang conceded only 17 touches to advance to the table of 16. There, he met Harvard teammate Brian Kaneshige, who challenged Chang in a closely contested match. Chang emerged with a 15-12 win and a berth in the quarterfinal. For Chang, this matchup against a fellow teammate was a particular challenge given their high level of familiarity.
“It was really close,” Chang said. “We know each other pretty well so there were not a lot of things I could do to surprise him.”
Chang followed the Crimson-on-Crimson bout with a 15-10 win over Columbia freshman and 2011 cadet North American Cup champion Harry Bergman. Chang then edged Air Force sophomore Alex Chiang, 15-12, to secure a spot in the final.
On Monday, Chang competed in the senior division of the North American Cup, placing third. Chang defeated fellow Harvard classmate Michael Woo, 15-13, in another closely contested intrasquad bout in the table of 16 before losing to Meinhardt in the semifinal.
Brand feels that Chang has made a good case to be considered for the U.S. senior national team, which comprises America’s top four foil fencers.
“[Chang] has been very consistent about his results,” Brand said. “He continues to progress and has done extremely well.”
Chang arrived at Harvard Yard this August with a long list of fencing credentials. The California native helped Team USA to a junior team world championship at the 2012 World Cadet and Junior Fencing Championships in Moscow last April.
“It was a great experience,” Chang said of his experience competing with the junior world team. “Some of the other guys on the team…went to the Olympic Games, so it was a lot of fun to be able to compete on a team with them.”
Chang comes from a fencing family. With the encouragement of his father Johnathan, who fenced as a member of the Taiwanese national team during the 1980s, Jerry started fencing taking fencing classes at the age of nine alongside his older brother Jason, who is now a sophomore foil specialist for Penn.
“Obviously, there’s a family tradition here,” Brand said. “Sometimes kids who have fenced as long as he has tend to lose interest once they get to college, but with this kid, you can see the drive and the interest that [Chang] has for the sport, which is not that common.”
Looking ahead, Chang said he hopes to help bring an Ivy League championship back to Harvard. Last year, Princeton unseated the defending champion Crimson to claim the Ancient Eight crown. Individually, Chang will try to qualify again for the junior world team this year. Beyond that, Chang is hesitant to talk about long-term goals.
“I’m eying Rio, but we’ll see what happens,” Chang laughed.
“[Chang] is obviously very intent on trying to make the U.S. Olympic team,” Brand said. “And I think that if he sticks with it, he’s got a very good chance to do so."