Duel identity

• Beaverton's Cody Mattern sharpens his world-class fencing skills

As a boy, Cody Mattern liked to pretend sword-fight with his brother, using sticks and debating who would win in a duel between a samurai and a musketeer.

'We had no idea what we were talking about or why,' Mattern says.

The reason seems clearer now. Mattern, 23, is headed for the 2004 Olympics in epee fencing.

Last month, the Beaverton resident finished second in a World Cup in Vancouver, British Columbia. He beat four of the top 10 fencers in the world, including defending world champion Fabrice Jeannet of France and No. 3-ranked Marcel Fischer of Switzerland.

'You saw the best fencers in the world actually somewhat scared of him,' says Michael Marx, his coach and mentor at the Northwest Fencing Center in Beaverton.

If Mattern has a day like that in Athens, Greece, in August, he will win a medal, and challenge for the gold.

'He has the potential to go as far as he wants to in this sport,' Marx says. 'He's probably the youngest fencer in the top 10 or 20 in the world. The only thing he doesn't have is a lot of experience.'

Mattern began to fence in 1996, shortly after those debates with his brother, Ron Garcia. 'I'm dyslexic, and I was home-schooling, and I was searching for something to do athletically,' he says.

By 1998, he was the junior national champion.

College offers poured in from Ohio State, Penn State, Stanford, Notre Dame, New York University and St. John's.

'I was very interested in architecture and coaching fencing,' he says. 'I decided to do something I had real passion for, and that was fencing, and where better to develop and learn than here, working with Michael. So I didn't go to college.'

Today, Mattern is second in the U.S. point standings and ranks 26th in the world. He figures he can compete at this high level for another 10 years and go to three Olympics in all.

His recent World Cup silver medal also was encouraging in that 'at the end of the day, I wasn't even tired.'

For cross-training, he rides his bicycle the 3.5 miles to and from the center. 'Fencing is an amateur sport, and I have to pinch pennies,' he says. In the summer, he likes to water-ski and go white-water rafting.

Finances are so tight, he doesn't have a cell phone and lives at home ('no rent, free food,' he says). He'd like to find a corporate sponsor to help him raise money or allow him the use of a car. That would help him prepare for and get to five pre-Olympic competitions Ñ the national championships in Atlanta in late April and World Cups in Sweden, Tunisia, Puerto Rico and Argentina.

He also hopes to spend a week in mid-May at the U.S. Olympic training headquarters in San Diego, 'to work on power and explosiveness,' he says.

Epee has been described as physical chess.

'I am totally enraptured with it,' Mattern says. 'I love the coach, I love the people and I love the sport.'

Marx, 45, won eight U.S. titles in foil and competed in five Olympics. He says the 6-4, 190-pound Mattern enjoyed early success largely because of his speed and size, but has made strides by becoming more technical and tactical.

'Most of the skills he has down,' Marx says. 'His offense, defense and counteroffense are all real threats. He's pretty complete.

'If I were still competing, I wouldn't want to fence him.'

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