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Tieu earns third career World Fencing Championship medal

May Tieu as a freshman on the team. Courtesy of GoPrincetonTigers.
May Tieu as a freshman on the team. Courtesy of GoPrincetonTigers.

May Tieu, a sophomore fencer on the Princeton women’s fencing team, was named women’s foil Junior World Champion on Tuesday in Cairo, Egypt. The Junior World Fencing Championships are held annually and are open to athletes around the world who are up to 20 years of age, and who meet certain selection criteria.

This was Tieu’s first individual Junior World Championships medal, adding onto the already impressive accomplishments of having won individual silver in the 2018 Cadet World Championships and team gold in the 2018 Junior World Championships.

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Tieu will be the fifth U.S. women’s fencer to win gold in the last seven Junior World Championships.

“This was definitely a Covid-era tournament,” Tieu commented on the competition. “Fencers were allowed very limited contact with others, both at the hotel and at the venue. There were times I couldn't even talk to my teammates or coach.”

The isolation left Tieu with a lot of time to think about her own performance. 

“I found myself thinking about how this was going to be my last junior individual event because I’m aging out. But I was still so hungry to win. I’d be sitting by myself, and I’d think about how I didn’t have to care, but I did.”

As a first-year at Princeton, Tieu earned first-team All-America, first-team All-Region, and first-team All-Ivy honors. She was also the NCAA regional champion for women’s foil in 2020.

“I think this trip felt like a burden on so many people around me,” Tieu said. “Someone off-handedly mentioned that my teammates at Princeton didn't have a competition to train for but still showed up to practice for me to be able to prepare for the championship. My mom packed three weeks worth of masks, alcohol wipes, gloves, airplane seat covers, and so much more. My coach was amazing, and I took complete advantage of her kindness.”

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“I had so much support, but that means there was a lot of pressure to do well,” she said.

In her final match, Tieu went up against three-time Junior World Team member Nicole Pustilnik of Israel and broke a 10–10 tie by scoring the next four points and earning the gold medal, finishing with a score of 15–12.

“I’m still not sure how I feel, but the messages I’ve gotten after winning let me know that there are so many people who look up to athletes, and it inspires me to be a better person. I’m grateful to Princeton Fencing and my family for being so supportive,” Tieu said. “I’m not allowed to return to campus under the social contract but I feel so much love all the way from Egypt.” 

“I also wanted to say that I did it all with a surgical mask under my fencing mask. Mask up, everyone!”

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