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Lena Johnson poised for collegiate and international success

Lois Elfman | 2/23/2017, 12:30 p.m.
As a teenager growing up in the Atlanta area who was seriously committed to continuing her fencing on the college ...
Lena Johnson was named All-Ivy First Team in women's sabre. Segre Timacheff photo

As a teenager growing up in the Atlanta area who was seriously committed to continuing her fencing on the college level, Lena Johnson made an important decision. Seeing how many Olympians trained in New York, she knew she had to come to the city. Now a junior at Barnard College, which competes as part of Columbia Athletics, Johnson was recently named All-Ivy First Team in women’s sabre.

“I saw all the athletes that were coming from different fencing clubs in New York and I said, ‘That’s where I have to be,’” said Johnson. “My goal ultimately is to win Olympic gold.”

Johnson began fencing when she was eight, and after reading a book in fifth grade, “The Shakespeare Stealer,” which contained a lot of sword fighting, she was inspired to pursue the sport more seriously. Her mother found her a summer camp. At the end of camp, the coach encouraged her to keep coming to practice, and she hasn’t looked back.

She was excited to learn that there was a Columbia student, Nzingha Prescod, on the 2012 Olympic team, and Barnard alumna Erinn Smart had won a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics in women’s team foil. Johnson contacted Smart to learn more about Barnard, and said Smart was very helpful with her decision, which was absolutely the right one. In Johnson’s first two years, Columbia has won back-to-back national championships.

“So far, it’s been a great season,” said Johnson, who is one of the team captains this year. “We put in a lot of work. Coming from last season, personally as an athlete I’ve learned more about managing my time and being more patient with myself when it comes to training and fixing issues. I’m excited to see where we go from here.”

Johnson was victorious 3-0 in the final home match of the season Feb. 15. The team is now prepping for the NCAA Northeast Regionals in mid-March in pursuit of another national title. The sabre coach is also a U.S. national team coach. After collegiate season is done, Johnson heads to Seoul, South Korea, for training and World Cup, placing her on Olympic track for 2020.

An American studies major, Johnson loves the mental aspects of fencing. “It’s all about strategy,” she said. “I like to have a challenge. It’s physically and intellectually challenging.”