In United States fencing, certain names hold a historic relevance for medals won or promulgation of the sport. Peter Westbrook holds such distinction. He has advanced the sport of fencing by creating the Peter Westbrook Foundation fencing club in New York City that has attracted and developed some of the area’s best athletes into elite fencers including Olympians like Keeth Smart (a 2008 silver medalist) – He’s the coach.
Let us now introduce Brooklyn native, Nzingha (pronounced zing-ha) Prescod, Westbrook’s sixth Olympian.
More than a decade ago, Nzingha reluctantly followed her sister to the Peter Westbrook Foundation one Saturday, encouraged by her mother. A participant in multiple sports, she felt burnt out, until fencing grabbed hold of her.
Soon, Peter’s wise eyes spotted natural talent in Nzingha. Nzingha went from someone who wanted to just beat her sister to Olympic candidate.
Fast forward to the present, as Peter’s prediction wisely paid off, Nzingha has won the U-17 World Championships in 2008 and 2009 and the 2011 U-20 World Championship.
The 19-year-old Columbia student who fought her way to a 25-2 collegiate record is just getting started.
We asked Nzingha about international competition. “I have been competing internationally since I was 14 in the Tibet Under-17 World Cup.”
International fencing takes athletes around the globe to find serious competition. Since the sport’s competitive surface, the fencing strip, can be set up and taken down anywhere, the sport can be played in virtually any room with space.[Quick Insight: A strip measures 14 meters long by approximately 1.5 meters wide].
Meets could be held in convention centers, ballrooms, and for the Shanghai Women’s Foil World Cup, in a mall.
Wouldn’t that be a distraction?
“The World Cup was awesome. It was in this big high-end mall. We could be seen on all floors, people looking over the balcony. You know, girls love to shop.” We checked out some of Nzingha’s wares from the trip including her fancy new headphones.
In Shanghai, she beat a woman from Russia, a familiar opponent she’s faced time and again. The final score of 15-13 put Nzingha in the final round of 16.
After a reseeding, she drew the top seed, and so ended the individual tournament.
Her star is rising, though, and her performance will spring board her to the next level, the London Olympic Games.
Fencing also has a team element. While it may make for good television, fencers do not simultaneously fight their opponents ala Pirates of the Caribbean. Rather, teams face off in relay fashion, with three athletes competing for a maximum of five touches each in five minute segments. In other words, if time expires, neither team would win the maximum points.
Thanks to depth, Team USA has historically had success in fencing team events.
After years of drills, bouting, and footwork, Nzingha has developed her own fencing style. “I like to draw them in. I’m not too aggressive. I don’t push opponents to the end of the strip. I like defensive actions, to make offense from defense.” She likes to capitalize on others’ mistakes looking for an opening then striking.
Fencing is one of the first competitions in the London games. You may remember in 2008 when the women’s team swept saber in the first contested medal competition, well a similar schedule in London means Nzingha won’t have time for the opening ceremonies because she fights the next day. Instead, she plans to arrive about two weeks prior to competition, conduct a few more training sessions with her coach, and then lay low the day before.
Like most elite athletes, on the day of competition, she’ll get in the zone through music. What does she like? “Kanye West … and Justin Bieber ‘Die in Your Arms.’” There you have it. The world’s best digs the Bieb.
She left us with some final thoughts about Peter Westbrook. “Peter’s always motivating me, pushing me to get to the next level. He’s been like a Father…Any day could be your day. I’ve seen others medal, so can I.”
Absolutely right. We wish you the best of luck, Nzingha, and predict that July 28 in London will be your day.
If you want to learn more about Nzingha and see her fence in person, be sure to check out USA Fencing’s Master’s Meet scheduled for June 26 at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. The event is the largest spectator fencing meet in US history and will feature all members of Team USA. See this link for more information: http://www.fencingmastersnyc.com/
Images via: vivaville.org and Facebook