July 28, 2003
July at the US Fencing summer national tournament held in Austin, Texas,
an Iranian-American by the name of Jamie (Jamsheed) Douraghy won the
all around gold medal and took the honor of US Fencing champion in
40-49 age bracket.
There are two reasons why this is important. One, is that I am in
the same age group and as any one of us in this group will attest,
witnessing ANY sports accomplishment by another member of the group
gives us great personal pleasure as well as continued hope that it
isn't altogether over. The other reason is that I have known Jamie
for the past 35 years and it is an especially proud moment in our long
first began fencing in 1977 when he was in boarding school in England.
The alternative sport at the time was to play field hockey during the
wet England winter/spring terms. Not an especially pleasant activity.
So he chose fencing instead. He quickly excelled in this sport and
won a few local tournaments and being left handed with unusually quick
reflexes it came fairly naturally to him.
After school Jamie moved to France for college where he continued
to fence at a local level. Later he moved to the US attending Syracuse
University in New York, but there wasn't a varsity fencing team, so
he pretty much had to train on his own without a coach which is a critical
element in fencing.
After university Jamie lived in Washington DC and Chicago and found
fencing clubs to go to and work out at. I asked Jamie what it was about
fencing that he liked so much.
J: "I enjoy the one on one challenge, you're trying to out maneuver
[the opponent] while they're trying to do the same to you. Few other
sports have this challenge. I've also run in several marathons where
the similar challenge is to push yourself further. I've played in several
amateur soccer leagues and the challenge there is more about getting
in sync with your teammates and work in unison. Fencing has a totally
different level of focus required."
this year's US Fencing summer nationals in Austin, Jamie arrived unusually
focused and advanced early on. A competition starts with an initial
seeding (first) round that is fenced by pools of 6-7 fencers in a round
robin format. From there, they take each person's total victories,
total defeats and touches scored vs. touches received. They then calculate
your winning percentage and rank you in a direct elimination tableau
out of 64.
His strategy was to deliberately focus on the first round, while everyone
else was using the round as a warm up round. If he could come out as
the top seed, he felt he would have a better path to the finals. He'd
figure out what to do in the finals once he got there and could see
who he was up against.
Coming out of the pools, Jamie's strategy worked perfectly. He was
seeded first as hoped, having scored 6 victories, 0 defeats. He scored
30 touches and was only hit twice so his indicators were +28.
The direct elimination rounds that followed are won by either scoring
10 touches or having the most touches at the end of two, three-minute
periods. Having a bye from the round of 64 into the round of 32, he
beat the first opponent 10-1.
In the round of 16 and the round of 8, he beat both opponents 10-6.
At this stage he knew he was in the medal round, and knew that just
2 more victories would give him the gold. In the final four, he remained
consistent and kept focused, beating his opponent by the same 10-6
It seemed that 6 was his lucky number. One more victory and the 40-49
National Championship would be his!
His opponent had been having a very good day having beaten the number
3 seed and in a surprise upset of the number 2 seed making it to the
final. Jamie had never fenced this guy before didn't know anything
about his style of fencing. Not only was he taller then Jamie by almost
a foot, but he was also left handed. All left handed fencers hate fencing
Jamie started strong getting off to a 5-2 lead half-way into the first
period. His opponent changed his tactics and Jamie didn't adjust quickly
enough and was only able to score just 1 more touch as his opponent
scored 6 more touches in quick progression. The first period ended
with the opponent leading Jamie 8-6 (was 6 going to be his UN-lucky
number this time?).
During the 1-minute break between periods, several other fencers came
over and asked Jamie what the problem was.
"He's in my head," Jamie kept saying, "He's in my head!"
Jamie was clearly the stronger fencer, but the other fencer was fencing
better, and now only needed to score 2 more touches to win the gold.
You can score a touch in a matter of a few seconds.
The break ended and this was it. The other fencer had to score 2 to
win, Jamie had to score 2 to tie and then 2 more to end it.
In a previous tournament Jamie tightened up at the very end with the
score 9-9. He was too concerned with not making a mistake and ended
up not doing anything and lost 10-9. After that loss, his coach told
him "When it's on the line, you must make a decision to do something,
don't just wait for something to happen and then react."
this advice, Jamie now scored the first touch to bring it to 7-8 and
then made his now famous decision. He decided that even if his opponent
was taller and had a longer reach, if he was just able to get close
and inside on him, a long attack might surprise him. It did, and just
like that the score was 8-8.
Friends and fans who were now sensing a comeback, began to shout encouragement
from the stands, Jamie was focused and felt it. They went back and
forth for a while and no one scored (seconds seemed like hours). Suddenly
he stopped, and you could tell that indecision was starting to creep
in as he contemplated too many moves. That's the worst thing to do,
because your legs stop moving and you become an easy target. Fortunately
someone from the crowd shouted, "Keep bouncing Jamie, keep bouncing!".
That registered with him, and he started moving up and down again before
his opponent was able to take advantage of the momentary lapse.
Jamie decided to feint as if he was going to do the same move that
he had used to score that last 2 touches. But then, he stopped his
attack short, baiting the opponent into a counter attack, took the
opponent's blade with a parry and quickly scored the next touch. It
was now 9-8. Now firmly in control of the match he had only to wait
for the right moment. That moment came quickly, as the opponent fell
into the same trap, and Jamie scored the final touch, the blade sinking
deep into the chest (the blades are flexible with a lot of give).
Douraghy, end of bout," said the referee.
Jamie let out a loud yell and jumped around with his arms in the air
like a kid. He then took off his mask, saluted the crowd, the referee
and shook hands with the opponent, it was all over and it felt good!
Jamie has continued with this exciting sport and has competed at various
state tournaments and regional events. I asked him why he thinks he
has been able to stick with it so long.
J: "I have stayed with the sport for over 27 years because of
the many fellow competitor friendships I've made and for some strange
reason it's still a challenge every single time I put my mask on and
get ready to face the next opponent!"
a bit about the sport in case you're a novice. There are 3 main fencing
styles: Epee (pronounced "EPP-pay), Foil, and Sabre. Jamie fences
in Foil. The object of the game is to outscore your opponent by "Touching" them
with the blade or tip depending on the type of sword you are using.
Epee: Is your typical dueling sword, heavier than
the foil, points are scored by touching any part of the body.
Foil: is the lightest of all the swords and the only
area allowed for points is the main torso or upper body (not the face).
Foil is the most elegant of the three.
Sabre: is the most slashing form and considered to
be the most brutish. But it is very exciting to watch. points are scored
from any touch and a sophisticated electronic sensing system is used
to determine the score.
In 1987 Jamie made an unusual offer to the then Iranian Olympic Committee.
He offered to pay his own way to Seoul for the 1988 games and represent
Iran in the sport. I asked him about the motivation behind doing this.
J: "Making an offer to represent Iran was not the easiest thing
to do from the States. I had to follow the traditional Persian path
of getting in touch with someone who knew someone who knew someone
who would try to get me in touch to the right people. Well I never
heard back from anyone and understood, because there was so much going
on in Iran at that time and fencing simply wasn't a priority. I am
pleased to say that today there is a fast growing program in Iran and
several Iranians are ranked in the top 100 in the world. There is even
an annual world cup circuit event that takes places in a different
Iranian city each year. This year's was held in Tehran on July 2."
Here's to you Jamie. Afareen, bud
To send an email to Jamie: Click
To Learn more about the sport of Fencing visit: United
States Fencing Association