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Young fencer goes the distance

Oregon Episcopal student is among best in U.S. in his age group

Bill Thanhouser can see himself competing in the Olympics someday, although there are other days when he might just as well compete in the X Games.

Thanhouser doesn't get much notoriety from a sport that has taken him to events throughout Europe and will land him in New York City next week.

'I'd love it if fencing were seen as an extreme sport. That would bring some crowds in,' says Thanhouser, a sophomore at Oregon Episcopal School who is one of the nation's top high school fencers.

'And it is an extreme sport because you're always getting hit by a big metal blade, and that hurts. It's just not fan-oriented like skateboarding. It's a great sport. People just have to sit and understand it more to be able to follow it.'

In an effort to publicize fencing, sponsors of the New York finals will hold them at Grand Central Station.

Thanhouser, 17, is the latest prodigy to come from the Oregon Fencing Alliance program, based at his Southwest Portland school's sports and recreation complex.

In an April tournament in Trapani, Italy, Thanhouser, a 5-8 lefty, placed 13th in the world in the 17-and-under age group, the highest placing by an American at the event in the saber division.

Fencers also compete in two other categories, foil and epee.

Thanhouser has competed in fencing since the fourth grade and chose it over soccer and gymnastics, sports he also excelled in.

'My coaches all wanted me to devote more time to one sport, and fencing was the one I had the most success in,' he says. 'Plus, I have the chance to get a scholarship. And maybe compete in the Olympics.'

'He's a good technical fencer,' says Alliance coach Edward Korfanty, who is also the women's national team coach. 'He has good skills and good tactics. He just needs more international experience to improve.'

Most of the world's top fencers are from Europe. The Alliance fencers compete there regularly. Thanhouser has competed in France, Spain, Germany and Poland.

'We're just in for the competition, and then we fly home,' he says. 'I haven't been much of a tourist.'

Thanhouser hopes to land a college scholarship in two years with one of the Midwest powers, namely Notre Dame. Patrick Ghattas, a senior at Oregon Episcopol, is headed there in the fall on a scholarship. Fellow senior Ian Farr is going to Penn State. The OFA stable also includes Mariel Zagunis, the nation's top-rated 19-and-under women's fencer, and Caitlin Thompson, who is ranked No. 1 at 16-and-under.

Thanhouser says he uses a sports psychologist in trying to gain an edge. Many matches, which go to 15 touches, last just minutes. A long match, he says, ends in 10 minutes.

'Fencing is a very mentally demanding sport,' he says. 'You have to be quick, agile and very focused.'

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