Former Temple fencer prepares for Tokyo Olympics

Kamali Thompson is training to compete at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics as an alternate.

Kamali Thompson, a 2012 biology alumna, competes at the 2017 New York Women’s Sabre World Cup. Thompson fenced for Temple from 2008-12. | DEVIN MANKY / COURTESY

After years of training for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, Kamali Thompson remembers the disbelief she felt when the International Olympic Committee announced in March 2020 the games would be postponed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I cried for five minutes after I got the news because I was so overwhelmed, like this could not be happening right now,” said Thompson, a 2012 biology alumna. “How am I going to do all these things to make sure I’m fully prepared.”

One year later, Thompson, a four-time National Intercollegiate Women’s Fencing Association conference fencing champion, is now set to compete in the 2021 games as a fencing alternate. 

Thompson was a three-time national silver medalist during the 2015-16 Olympic qualifying year, won the 2016 National Championships and was a member of the 2019 United States national team.

When the postponement of the 2020 games pushed back Thompson’s plans, she shifted her training techniques and adapted to COVID-19 restrictions, like wearing a mask when fencing and distancing herself from others during her training sessions. 

“The first couple of months when everything was closed I worked out at home,” Thompson said. “I tried to do footwork and set up a fencing dummy in my house. It felt silly, and I didn’t feel productive. I just focused on staying in shape for a couple months until the clubs opened up again”

Thompson belongs to the Peter Westbrook Foundation, a fencing club located in New York City that consists of several high-level fencers who are training together for the Olympics. The club closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and did not officially reopen until later that year in August, Thompson said.

“We knew that since there’s a pandemic, practices weren’t going to be the same,” Thompson added.  “We can’t do what we normally do. There was one point where we were even fencing in the living room, so how are you going to the Olympics or train for the Olympics fencing in your living room?”

When the club reopened, it implemented occupancy restrictions like a 10-person limit for the training room, which was significantly less than the 30 people usually allowed before the pandemic, Thompson said. 

Thompson trains everyday, with 20 to 30 minutes of her workout dedicated to cardio, and takes lessons four to five times a week with her fencing coach, she added.

“I see him twice a week and then he gives me exercises to do on the days I don’t see him,” Thompson said. “Fencing is very unilateral in nature, so we do unilateral exercises to balance out my weak side with my strong side.” 

Thompson fenced for four years in Temple’s program. After graduating in 2012 with a bachelor’s of science in biology and a minor in psychology, Thompson enrolled in Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and fenced for Team USA on an international level.

Amanda Neuber, the director of Temple Honors and Thompason’s former psychology professor, admired how Thompson balanced her responsibilities as a Division I athlete with her schoolwork during her time at Temple, she said.

“What was interesting about [Thompson] is that not only was she able to work really hard at fencing and become a phenomenal fencer, but she also had the same dedication to her schoolwork,” Neuber added.

Ruth Ost, former director of Temple Honors and a mentor and advisor to Thompson, believes Thompson will do everything in her power to be the best athlete she can for the Olympics, she said. 

“She was the epitome of what a student-athlete was all about, incredibly intelligent and intense, both about her academic studies and about her sport,” Ost added. “It was never one sacrifice or the other, she had the capacity to handle both with resilience.”

The Summer Olympics are set to begin on July 23 and will run through Aug. 8. 

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