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US fencing team visits Temple of Heaven
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By Meredith Peck

The USA fencing team walked through the Temple of Heaven and Pearl Market last Monday morning and embraced the Beijing attractions. I was able to tag along. (Watch the video by Susan Tart)

Back home I spend 20 hours a week fencing for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It seems only natural that I would fall in love with such a unique sport.

Fencing has become a part of my life, and I jumped at the opportunity to interview 12 other people who feel the same – the USA fencing team.

I spent Monday morning with the team as they walked through the Temple of Heaven and haggled at the Pearl Market. I was able to see what professional athletes did in their spare time.

The team walked through the Temple and stopped to take in the Chinese culture whenever possible. The team watched a Chinese group dance, played Jianzi with locals and each other and participated in whatever possible.

Next, the team was ready to haggle at the Pearl market. Some bought only a few things to get used to haggling, while others took the time to observe.

"It was a moving experience seeing all of the citizens coming together to interact and play games and dance. The temple itself was really beautiful. It is definitely a place I would come back to," Emily Cross, a women's foil fencer, said about the Temple of Heaven.

Cross has been fencing for nine years after starting the sport as a dad-and-daughter activity. After the games, Cross will continue her education as a pre-med major at Harvard University.

Meanwhile, Cross' teammate Hanna Thompson has also enjoyed her experiences in Beijing and only has positive responses. She recently graduated from Ohio State and plans to take the LSAT in December.

"People are so welcoming and hospitable," Thompson said. "The [Olympic] village is amazing."

She took her first trip to the Pearl Market to simply look around. Instead of haggling, Thomspon spoke with me. We discovered our similarities: we are both left-handed foil fencers with twins. I thought that was pretty cool.

Coach Robert Largman arrived first to make sure everything was in order. The team arrived shortly after in approximately four waves and said it plans to sight see before the games by visiting the Great Wall, Forbidden City and the Silk Market.

While many of the athletes are at the Olympics for the first time, a few have experienced previous Olympic games. Among them is 27-year-old Seth Kelsey. Kelsey graduated in 2003 from the Air Force Academy and has enjoyed competing and sight seeing since then while traveling with world alternate, best friend and his personal coach, Cody Mattern since 2002.

Kelsey has been around the world fencing since before the last Olympics. Throughout those years, he has enjoyed traveling and sight seeing.

Kelsey and Mattern explained the importance of exploring native cultures while in various countries and said they use culture as a way to relax and take a step back from stresses.

"I feel that if you immerse yourself in the culture, it takes off some of the pressure," Mattern said.

The team is in its final stages of training and preparation for the Olympic Games. The athletes and coaches take time off from their busy training schedule to see Beijing's attractions and take their mind off the pressure.

(China.org.cn August 8, 2008)

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