Carmel Valley native wants to regain that Olympic ‘touch’ in London
By Kathy Day
Coming home to Carmel Valley for the holidays marked the beginning of Soren Thompson’s travels for the winter.
The Torrey Pines High graduate — who was a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic Fencing Team in individual men’s epee — is working on a comeback. The road will take him to Portland for the North America Cup Jan. 13-16, and then to an international invitational in Italy. After that, it’s training with the Italian national team near Naples and the first of four Olympic qualifying events in Milan.
“I’m very excited to be in the middle of this journey,” he said in a recent interview from New York where he now lives and trains.
Thompson stopped competing after failing to qualify for the 2008 Olympic team, which he concedes was probably due to his injury – a complete avulsion of his hamstring, meaning the tendons are no longer attached to the bone. Before he got hurt, he was No. 2 ranked in the U.S. and No. 8 in the world.
Both the fencer and Sebastian Dos Santos, the U.S. men’s epee coach, acknowledge the challenge is different because of the injury. Surgery wasn’t an option and he still has a big lump in the middle of his leg that hurts him to walk when it flares up.
“I’ve been dealing with the injury and living with it,” Thompson said. “It’s made me mentally tougher.”
After dropping out of competition, he shifted his focus to international business, working for Hycrete, a construction and green technology company. But the urge to get back into his sport grew as the London Olympics drew closer.
At 30, he’s “a touch on the old side,” he said, adding, “I’m glad I trusted myself and took this leap. Hopefully it will get me to London.”
Dos Santos said he believes Thompson “is almost guaranteed to qualify for the Olympics,” although there are a few steps he still has to take along the way.
One of those will be finding the drive that many younger competitors have.
“You have to be hungry to be the best and sometimes with maturity that dissipates,” the coach said in a phone interview in late December.
Thompson has been taking his training in stages. At first, he trained before and after work, upping the schedule after he started to see results. Then he worked out an arrangement to shift from employee to consultant so he could hone his skills.
Within a couple of months of full-time training, he was back in international competition and finished as the top American at one event.
“I went from 300th (ranking) to the top 20 to the top 10,” he said. “The season is going well.”
The son of Greg and Sheila Thompson, he said his fencing career started “as a little bit of an accident. My mother knew someone who was friends with the fencing coach at UCSD.”
That was when he was 7. From there it was on to higher levels of competition, including being on the Princeton University fencing squad where he won the NCAA title. At the 2004 Athens Olympics, he finished 7th.
Now back on the world stage, he trains himself, building on the knowledge he has gained from many coaches along the way, he said.
“I’m really coming back in a different way. The situation is controlled by me,” he added.
The U.S. coach, Dos Santos, said “being his own coach enables him to take the best from all. He’s had a lot of success this season.”
Fencing, he said, is a “very unique combat sport (that is all about) timing and distance, one person against another. … Each person is a new problem to solve.”
A lot of the same life skills apply to his work, he added, but for now he’s focusing on who his competitors are and what skills they have and applying his own abilities.
“It all hangs on that moment … there’s a ton of pressure.”