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Precocious on the Piste: Fencer Jessica Guo Wins Female Rookie of the Year

Set to compete for Team Canada in her second Olympic games as only a freshman, Jesscica Guo is our Female Rookie of the Year.
Set to compete for Team Canada in her second Olympic games as only a freshman, Jesscica Guo is our Female Rookie of the Year. By Courtesy of Andrew Lahodyskyi/Canadian Olympic Committee
By Thomas Harris, Crimson Staff Writer

Despite being just 18 years old, freshman fencer Jessica Guo is no stranger to competitive glory on the piste.

She went to her first Olympics at 15, eight years after she started competing. That same year, she also became the top-ranked fencer in her entire home country of Canada. Even with a rocky start to her first year in Cambridge, the Toronto native has still reached impressive heights competing for Harvard so far. The young fencer led the Crimson to an individual and team foil NCAA championship, earning her The Crimson’s Female Rookie of the Year award in the process.

“We started off the year with a rough first couple of competitions, getting to know the team and learning how to work together,” Guo said. “Winning nationals was a celebration of our hard work and reminds us of what we work for.”

Guo is an experienced fencer. She has been traveling around the world, from Georgia (the country) to Georgia (the state), since she was a young teenager competing for world junior championships. But, college fencing provides a new perspective on an otherwise highly-individual sport: teamwork. Although Guo didn’t know what to expect, she found it a comfortable environment. Having a team who was there for her and competing with her proved to be an incredible asset. Especially during the long NCAA tournaments, having a reliable team with good culture was critical to her.

“It was a lot more supportive. I knew all of my teammates were rooting for me in every single boat and how I fenced mattered for the entire team, instead of international competition where everything is for me,” Guo stated.

This supportive environment has also pushed Guo to grow into a more resilient fencer.

“I want to be able to adapt to different situations, different formats of fencing,” Guo explained. “This adaptability has also helped me for international competitions, where I have been placed in uncomfortable situations that I have needed to adapt and cope with.”

Guo has placed special emphasis on her tactical ability since she started fencing. Getting put in uncomfortable situations helped her expand her range as a fencer, and helped her learn how to overcome those obstacles.

To clinch her spot as the NCAA women’s foil champion, Guo had to fence against her teammate, junior Lauren Scruggs. As is tradition with intra-squad bouts, Head Coach Daria Schnieder elected not to coach either fencer during the matchup. Guo won the matchup, although for both Guo and Scruggs, it was more important to win as a team, rather than as an individual. This Harvard win, as well as winning the women’s individual epee title, helped carry the Crimson to its first title since 2006, when Guo was less than a year old.

Though it would seem college might interfere with a higher-level fencer's ability to travel the globe competing, for Guo — who plans on concentrating in Neuroscience — her professors have made this a smooth transition. At the very least, collegiate fencing has clearly not hindered her international competitive pursuits. Guo has proven this year that she can simultaneously be a student-athlete and one of the most talented fencers in the world.

This spring, Guo qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Guo hopes to help Team Canada improve on its fifth place finish at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, when she made her Olympics debut and garnered an individual 13th place finish. Leading up to her bout on the world stage, she also took 10th place at the Senior Foil World Cup in Cairo, Egypt on Feb. 27. While she took to the piste for her first Senior World Cup at just 13, this year's 10th place finish made Guo the youngest fencer ever to secure a top-10 finish. Although the Canadian fencer is still young enough to compete in junior level events, she reached a peak performance of fourth place in the senior rankings.

The fencer said of her qualification, “I am approaching this Olympics with the mindset that anything can happen. I learned from the last Olympics that miracles can happen, and that there is great unpredictability in the Games because everyone is nervous for the once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Guo could once again face off against Scruggs in Paris, but this time, however, the two would be competing under different flags, which will make the competition that much fiercer. At the end of the competition, however, the duo will still be Crimson teammates, and as such, Guo was quick to commend the rising senior.

“It is definitely very different, because I have been competing alongside her the entire season,” Guo said, of competing against Scruggs and Team USA. “Therefore, having to cheer against her is definitely very weird. However, I’ve gotta represent my country!”

Rather than focusing on the different format and teammates as well as the bigger stage, the fencer plans to focus on what stays the same. Guo will focus on defeating the opponent at hand, instead of thinking about the pressure of representing her country.

Guo also talked about how influential collegiate fencing, and the novel challenges it brings, have been in preparing her for the Olympics. She plans on using the increased resilience she practiced in NCAA tournaments to help her advance past her previous finish in the tournament this summer.

“NCAAs is a great preparation for my endurance because there are around 20 bouts I need to fence in,” Guo said. “However, the high energy and intensity of the competition is good preparation for the loud and chaotic crowd in Paris.”

Despite having competed on the biggest fencing stages in the world, her favorite memory is something much nearer and dearer to her heart: winning the Cadet World Championships.

“I was super nervous going into cadets because it was my last year, my last chance to win,” she admitted. “The day before I did not perform the way I wanted to, so I was nervous throughout the day.”

This nervousness definitely affected Guo’s fencing. Combined with some close calls made by the referee, Guo had a slow start to her finals day. But she was able to turn it around.

“Throughout the day I talked to my coach about my feelings, which gave me confidence,” Guo recalled.

And that confidence translated to success on the piste, leading her all the way to the finals, where she started off in dominating fashion. In the middle rounds, she built a lead of as much as seven touches, but quickly saw the advantage evaporate. Describing her mentality at that juncture of the match, she said, “I was breaking down.”

But Guo was able to hang on. She seized back the momentum, won the match, and claimed her final cadet championship. That victory made all the hardship on the way worth it. Despite winning cadets previously, the sense of conclusiveness and success despite adversity this time around made the win that much more special.

“The best moment was when I hit that last touch. I just started crying. Crying of relief for winning,” Guo recalled.
The Canadian phenom will have many more chances to achieve such elation, beginning across the sea this summer. Catch Rookie of the Year Jessica Guo, as well as Lauren Scruggs, Elizabeth Tartakovsky ʼ23 and five fencers from the Crimson men’s team facing off in Paris this summer.

—Staff writer Thomas Harris can be reached at

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