Fencing fast-track: The Edinburgh teenage trio tipped for the top and dreaming big

Fencing star Jaimie Cook has the Olympic Games in his sights after impressing on the national stage and, along with Thomas Walton and Callum Penman, is one of three Edinburgh teenagers being tipped for big things in the sport by the national governing body.

Cook is going from strength-to-strength after becoming the country’s youngest ever competitor at the Commonwealth Fencing Championships, aged just 17. He recently finished second at the British Junior Championships and is now targeting the international stage.

“At the start of the season it was tough coming back,” he said. “I didn’t really know what to expect. But the more I’ve fenced the more I’ve taken confidence, I went out to the cadet Euros and then the cadet Worlds, which was a great experience.

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“To know I was one of the top four in the country to make it into the team was a big confidence boost. Now I don’t fear the senior stage as much, it’s all just about putting in the time to improve my craft. It’s a unique sport where you can progress quickly. I don’t look too far ahead but also in the back of my mind know that the Olympics in 2024 is a real target. That would be incredibly cool and I know I’ll give it everything to get there over the next two years.”

Edinburgh's Jaimie Cook competing in the cadet men's foil at junior and cadet Worlds World Championships in Dubai earlier this year.

Thomas Walton, also 17, is hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps as he embarks in his own journey in the sport. He is one of the brightest foil prospects in British Fencing’s cadet age range and became national champion at Under-17 level last year. His dad Sean was a top-class fencer in both the foil and epee events and Walton junior says that their close bond ensures he has a much-needed sounding board whenever he steps off the piste.

“The day I was born pretty much I was given a sword in my hand,” joked Walton. “My dad loved fencing so it came naturally, but it has just been great to have such a family-oriented sport. He’s more than a coach. Because we have a close father-son relationship, he can just tell me anything, if I’m having a poor day or a good day, he’ll tell me.

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“It’s the kind of feedback I need. He just tells me how it is and I love him for it. If something isn’t quite right technically he can tell me, but he certainly helps me a lot with the mental side as well.”

But despite their shared love of the sport, once the Waltons are in the comfort of their own home fencing doesn’t dominate the conversation. “I think my mum has insisted we don’t talk about fencing at the dinner table,” he added. “I won’t tell my dad what an inspiration he is or he’ll get too smug! But he is definitely my sporting hero.”

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Jaimie Cook became the UK's youngest ever competitor at the Commonwealth Fencing Championships, aged 17, and is now targeting the international stage.

Callum Penman, 16, feels that navigating the challenges of lockdown has made him a better fencer. The foilist admitted to struggling to find the motivation when the Covid-19 pandemic first struck but with the help and support of his coaches and British Fencing, he has emerged out of the other side. After having to go months without competition, the young Scot is now looking like one of the most talented cadet fencers in the country, a far cry from when he wasn’t able to pick up a sword in anger.

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Penman explained: “When you’re not allowed to spar, it makes things very difficult. That was a huge aspect of the training. Obviously, I think Covid did impact on my development for sure. But British Fencing and the coaches did so much to keep me training during that period.

“We would work on footwork, fitness and strength and conditioning. It made you feel as if you were still working towards something. It was all stuff you could do at home, so even though I was stuck in my room for a lot of lockdown I could carry on training. I’m so glad I’ve stuck with it because I think I’m a better fencer for going through that period.”

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Penman is now one of Britain’s rising talents in the men’s foil event after recently finishing second at the British Cadet Championships in Nottingham. He believes the switch to training at the Salle Holyrood club has made a huge difference.

Edinburgh teenager Callum Penman is one of Britain’s rising talents in the men’s foil event
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He added: “The quality of the facilities at Holyrood has really helped me step up my fencing. It means when I come to events like the National Championships, I feel that I can compete with anyone.”

The Capital trio’s development is supported by British Fencing, which recently launched its new ‘British Fencing commitment’ setting out the organisation’s cultures and values, both on and off the piste, going forward. “The culture at British Fencing is moving to a ‘fencer-centred’ approach,” said Dusty Miller, head of people and culture at the national governing body.

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“What we are trying to do is put the development of the fencer at the very centre. To be fencer-centred is about putting the fencer’s performance, and the development of that individual, right at the heart of performance. The commitment is our binding contract with each other, between the community, parents and us as a national governing body to support the development and the growth of their children, hopefully into high performance adults.”

•British Fencing supports fencing and para fencing across the UK, from grassroots initiatives and school-age experiences, through to clubs and competitions. The Athlete Development Programme supports fencers as they develop along the GBR pathway and has a three-point focus: Fencer-Centred, Development-Driven and Competition-Supported, placing the fencer at the heart of the competitive fencing map. Find out more at britishfencing.com