Epeeist Cole Mallette is headed to the Junior Olympics in February. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

Anyone thinking of challenging Keizerite Cole Mallette to a sword duel might want to think twice. Chances are Mallette is better.

Earlier this month, Mallette qualified for the Junior Olympics in fencing with high-placed finishes in the Junior Olympic Qualifying tournament hosted by Northwest Fencing Center.

“I didn’t expect to do as well as I did in the Junior program because I was up against older, more experienced fencers, but when I did, it qualified me as a cadet, too,” Mallette, 14, said. Cadet fencers are age 17 and younger, while junior fencers are 20 and younger.

Mallette took sixth place in the junior epee bracket and third in the cadet epee bracket. The accomplishment earned him a berth to compete in the Junior Olympics February 17-20 in Salt Lake City. It will be his first time at the event, but it bodes well for the future, said Michael Heggen, Mallette’s instructor at Salem Classical Fencing.

“The Junior Olympics are the national championships and a stepping stone toward the world championships,” Heggen said. “It’s unusual for someone as young as he is to have made it that far already.”

Given that it’s Mallette’s first appearance on the grand stage, Heggen will be happy for him to perform well in pool matches and the first direct elimination bouts.

“Locally, Cole is one of our stronger epeeists,” Heggen said. “He’s sort of underrated as an E right now, but I expect he’ll move up to a D, or even a C, in the next 12 months.” Fencers are rated according to a lettered scale with “A” being the highest possible rating.

Mallette started fencing at age 11 after watching the Olympic event on television.

“The hardest part was learning to bend my knees and advance and retreat smoothly,” Mallette said.

In recent years, the competitive aspect of the sport is what has kept his attention.

“It’s one thing to make yourself good, but it’s something else to see how those skills match up with someone else who is trying to get better at the same thing. You’re trying to make yourself better compared to the other person,” Mallette said.

Being tall for his age with a bit of lankiness are natural advantage for Mallette, Heggen said, but Mallette may have an even bigger advantage in that he’s left-handed.

“Only about 10 percent of people are left-handed, but more than 40 percent of fencing world champions are left-handed,” Hegen said. “Cole also has a good build and a good mind for the sport, he’s very analytical.”

Mallette spends a not-insignificant portion of his time perfecting his craft. On average, he’s spends three afternoons a week in lessons at Salem Classical Fencing and travels to Beaverton once a week to compete with a deeper field.

Like athletes in other sports, Mallette enjoys most the moment of “flow,” when there’s nothing but energized focus, full involvement and success in the process.

Often though, he doesn’t realize he’s reached that level of performance until he has a break, “I don’t really notice until we have a rest and my hands are shaking as I try to drink water and I can’t think about anything else but fencing.”