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Kim rises from underdog to champ

Kim Ji-yeon not only stunned her opponents but herself after knocking out top-tier fencers to take home the gold in the women’s individual sabre at the 2012 London Olympics on Thursday.

Largely regarded as the underdog by both competitors and her teammates, 24-year-old Kim came back from a 12-5 deficit against U.S. favorite Mariel Zagunis to advance into the finals. Kim, using the momentum she gained in beating Zagunis, easily knocked out Russia’s Sofya Velikaya who was the defending world champion.

Before the Olympics, Kim had never taken first in an international competition and only started aggressively training for the Olympics last year.

Ranked fifth by the International Fencing Federation, Kim’s secret came from what was largely thought of as a disadvantage in the sport: her size.
Korea’s Kim Ji-yeon celebrates her gold medal. (London Olympic Joint Press Corps)
Korea’s Kim Ji-yeon celebrates her gold medal. (London Olympic Joint Press Corps)

Standing at just 165 centimeters and 57 kilograms, Kim was the second-smallest fencer advancing to the final 16 and the smallest in the quarterfinals. And with her small stature, Kim is noted for her exceptional agility which stems from her quick feet. It was those traits that caught the eyes of Kim Yong-yul, the head coach of the Korean fencing team.

Under the guidance of her coach, Kim started to rack up experience that would compliment her nimble toes, particularly focusing on counter attacks and counter parries. “I am more confident in my defense, so I can usually counter-attack after dodging my opponent’s initial attack,” said Kim. “I look at my opponent’s blade during the match. Then I can catch her movements and drive my sabre in.”

And that’s what helped Kim to win Korea’s first Olympic gold in a fencing event. Korea’s only other fencing medal came from Nam Hyun-hee who took silver in the women’s individual foil in 2008.

By Robert Lee (