In a sport that requires quick decisions and an aggressive outlook, 16-year-old Malia Hee is on a fast track.
The Vancouver teenager won two championships during the USA Fencing Junior Olympics Nationals, winning the women’s sabre titles in both the cadet (under-17) and junior (under-20) divisions.
A sophomore at St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Hee now has won four national tournaments. The Junior Olympics took place Friday through Monday at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.
“I was really surprised,” Hee said about winning gold twice.
Her coach was not.
“It shows the depth of her fencing,” said Charles Randall, Hee’s coach at PDX Fencing in Beaverton, Ore. He noted that the junior age division includes college competitors.
The under-17 tournament, which took place on Friday, proved the more challenging medal to win.
Hee had to come from behind to win in both the semifinal and final elimination matches. She defeated Tara Hassett of Beaverton 15-12 in the championship round.
“Going into cadets, I had a lot of pressure on me because it’s my last year of cadets,” Hee said.
A series of quick wins boosted her confidence. In the semifinal, Hee fell behind 8-2 before defeating Gabrielle Tartakovsky of New Jersey 15-14. In the final, she trailed 4-0 and 8-3.
“I had to talk to myself,” she said, adding that Randall told her she was rushing and was standing up too straight when on defense.
With the under-17 gold won, Hee was more relaxed during the under-20 competition, which took place on Sunday.
“For juniors, I wasn’t really expecting myself to win it, so I was calm,” Hee said. “There was no pressure. Just have fun.”
Hee never trailed on her way to the
under-20 title. Her 15-13 win over fellow teen Violet Michel of Cambridge, Mass., in the final bout was her closest match.
On Monday, Hee and teammates Madaline Curzon and Christina Boitano won a bronze medal for PDX Fencing in the women’s sabre team event.
Two weeks ago, Hee won a silver medal in women’s sabre at a World Cup tournament in Phoenix, Ariz. It was her first World Cup experience.
Hee has been competing in sabre since age 8, and training for more than a decade. She started learning even earlier, watching older sister Kirsten train and compete.
Randall said Hee has been working hard with the hope of peaking for the Junior Olympics. He noted that she won many of her matches by convincing scores, at one stage winning three consecutive 15-5 bouts.
“She was very on,” Randall said.
Randall said that the sabre, an attack-oriented weapon with which points are the result of split-second decisions, fits Hee’s aggressive mindset.
In 2010, Hee won a under-12 gold medal at a national event, and in 2011 she won a Division III national tournament. Sweeping both divisions at Junior Olympics is a rare event according to Randall.
One of the secrets to Hee’s success is her approach when she loses a bout, Randall said.
“She’s always seeking the answer to a loss,” Randall said. “She has a very mature attitude. She always tries to improve.”