Phil Sheridan: London-born fencer has Philly attitude and Penn State loyalty

Miles Chamley-Watson, an Olympic fencer, hopes to "shine some light" on Penn State by winning a medal.          MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Miles Chamley-Watson, an Olympic fencer, hopes to "shine some light" on Penn State by winning a medal.          MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Posted: July 27, 2012

LONDON - Miles Chamley-Watson is thrilled to be competing in the Olympics in the city of his birth, the place his family still calls home.

Chamley-Watson also quickly identified himself as "a New Yorker at heart." That makes sense, since he lives and trains in New York.

So where does Philadelphia come in? It is listed as the young fencer's official hometown by the United States Olympic Committee. And Chamley-Watson's parents do indeed live right in the heart of Center City, just a few blocks south of City Hall. But this 23-year-old seems about as Philly as wine gums and Yorkshire pudding.

And then Chamley-Watson is asked why he didn't choose to represent England, his country of birth, instead of the United States.

"I wasn't asked to fence by Great Britain until I started to get good, when I was about 16," Chamley-Watson said. "It wasn't that difficult [a decision]. By then, I wasn't going to change countries just because somebody asked me to."

And how have the Olympic hosts responded to that decision?

"I've gotten some grief," Chamley-Watson said. "I'd like to represent America. I've gotten a lot of grief about coming to London, but hopefully I can shut them up."

There's the Philadelphian in him. It's in the attitude.

That attitude could go a long way on Tuesday, when Chamley-Watson is scheduled to compete for a medal. The foil competition takes place on one day, which presents a peculiar challenge for the athletes. They train and prepare for days, then take part in a field-of-64 tournament within a few intense hours.

"It's really tough," Chamley-Watson said. "If you're not on that day, you could come here and lose your first bout and you're done. But if you're on, and you can go the whole way, you can win the entire competition. You have to be really focused from the first touch. You can't let a couple of touches go by."

At the same time, you can't let yourself get too hyped up, because that can backfire, too.

"I think you can overdo it," Chamley-Watson said. "The key is to be fresh. I'm not even going to fence for a couple of days before my competition. I'm just going to listen to my music."

That means Adele at night to help him unwind and fall asleep, then Drake or Lil Wayne in the mornings to get him going.

Most of Chamley-Watson's family still lives in London, just a few Underground stops from the ExCeL Center where he will compete. He will have the advantage of a big cheering section, even if many of the locals view him as a turncoat.

But he also has another family in mind as he tries to come away from his first Olympics with a medal.

Penn State.

Chamley-Watson still is enrolled there, even though he took a semester off to train with his coach in New York to prepare for the Olympics. He has watched from afar as the campus and the culture he knew and enjoyed so much have undergone seismic changes. Even in London, he can't escape images of Joe Paterno's statue being taken down.

"Last time I was there," Chamley-Watson said, "JoePa was at our [team] dinner. Then he passed away, which was awful. And now the statue is gone. It's terrible. It's going to be really weird. A lot of changes."

In April, when Chamley-Watson was named to the Olympic team for the first time, he received a couple of congratulatory phone calls.

"Tim Curley [the former athletic director] called me," Chamley-Watson said. "So did Graham Spanier, who was the university president. Obviously, they're going through a tough time, so for them to reach out and support me, that's amazing. My coaches, my athletic adviser also reached out to me. They tell me I'm going to make Penn State proud, so hopefully I will. Hopefully, I'll come back with some hardware. Maybe I can shine some light."

After the shocking developments of the last eight months, culminating in the devastating NCAA sanctions this week, Penn State could use some positive news. Chamley-Watson is one of four current students, and 19 Penn Staters overall, involved in these Olympics.

He is not considered a favorite for a medal. He is ranked 30th in the world in his event and third among his U.S. teammates. But this is his first Olympics, and there's no denying the fortuitous timing. Chamley-Watson is comfortable here among the wine gums [a gummy candy] and English comfort foods.

"To be back here, it's amazing," Chamley-Watson said. "To be in my first Olympics and to be in my hometown. Hopefully, it's destiny and I'll do well."

With his London style, New York training, and especially that Philadelphia attitude, anything is possible.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster, and his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

 

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