Daryl Homer was underrated going into the men’s individual saber event in the London Olympics, since it was his first-ever appearance in the pinnacle of athletic competition.
But the 18-seeded Homer shocked everyone when he upset world ranked No. 2 Alexey Yakimenko of Russia, 15-14, showcasing the strength of the U.S. fencing team.
“In my honest opinion, I think Russia came here today thinking they were going to walk all over us,” Homer said. “We just proved to them that they’re going to have to rewrite their plan if they want to beat us.”
Homer, a student of St. John’s University, tied St. John’s alum Keeth Smart for the highest finish in men’s individual saber (sixth) since the 1984 games.
Homer received a first round bye to start the 64-bracket tournament, but in the round of 32, Homer won his first bout against Romania’s Tiberiu Dolniceanu, 15-11.
In the ensuing round, Homer dominated early against Yakimenko, taking a 14-9 lead before the Russian national tied the score with five consecutive touches. The fencers then had five straight standoffs where neither received a point, because they were ruled simultaneous attacks.
Yury Gelman, coach of the Olympic team and St. John’s fencing program, gave the 22-year old some advice during the match, as referees watch instant video replay of the fencers’ attacks.
“Yury told me to keep the pressure on him, stay confident, and be sharp,” Homer said. “He said not to watch, because Yakimenko is amazing at his invitations.”
Following his coach’s guidance Homer was able to land the final blow and pull off the upset.
But, the young fencer’s run would come to an end in the round of eight when he lost to Romania’s Rares Dumitrescu, 15-13, despite defeating a stronger opponent a round earlier.
“Yakimenko is a fencer who’s more comfortable for me stylistically,” Homer said. “He’s going for more meditated actions and is fencing more off his tactics. Dumitrescu is more difficult for me. He’s strong. He’s huge.”
Homer isn’t done just yet.
He is set to compete in the men’s team saber event on August 3, and he is sure his previous performance delivered a direct message.
“We had our plan and it was successful,” Homer said. “If we can execute in the team event, I’m very confident in how we’ll do.”
Another St. John’s fencer, saber Dagmara Wozniack, will compete in the women’s individual tournament in London on August 1.