After Years Of Sweat, Fencer Jason Pryor Makes His Olympic Debut

Aug 9, 2016
Originally published on August 9, 2016 3:24 pm

With six years of Olympic preparation behind him, American Jason Pryor took to the fencing strip in Rio on Tuesday.

When I caught up with him a few days before his match, he told me, "I've never been more ready for anything in my entire life."

Pryor, 28, from South Euclid, Ohio, is the top men's epee fencer in the U.S., and ranked no. 24 in the world.

His opening opponent is Benjamin Steffen of Switzerland, ranked no. 13.

"He is one of THE best fencers in the world," Pryor says, anticipating the matchup. "So at this point, I just have to get rid of all that and decide to have a good day, because it's just another tournament."

I watch Pryor's match with his parents, Eric and Brenda Pryor. They flew in from Ohio along with nine other family members from all around the U.S. who came to cheer Jason on.

"(I'm a) proud, excited, and a very, very blessed mother!" Brenda enthuses as we waited for the bout to start.

"I don't have buttons on my shirt anymore, just bursting!" Eric chimes in. "Yes, we're tremendously proud. "

We take seats in the second row inside the Carioca 3 arena.

Pryor enters in his white uniform, eyes fixed. He wears green shoes that match the fencing strip he's competing on.

His face mask is emblazoned with Stars and Stripes.

Pryor shimmies a little with the opening music.

Mom Brenda bows her head for a quiet prayer.

The match director says, "En garde! Allez!" and the bout is on.

Pryor and Steffen dance and parry and lunge, their epees flashing.

They're evenly matched, trading touches. The lights flash green when Pryor scores a point. Red for his opponent. The duel is to 15 points.

Brenda murmurs under her breath, "Stay loose baby, stay loose."

Each time Jason scores a point, his parents rise out of their seats: "Yes! Yes! Yesssss!"

When Steffen lands a touch, they urge Jason on: "It's all right Jason, you got this! One point at a time, Jase, one point at a time! Get it back."

The score inches up: 11-12. 12-13. 13-14.

It's match point. Jason is down by one. "Find a way Jason, find a way! Let's go!"

But it's Steffen who scores the final touch.

It's taken 11 minutes.

Jason Pryor's Olympics are over.

He hugs his opponent. Mom and dad look wistful, but they're smiling. Really big.

"Our son found a way to persevere," Brenda says after the match. "To rise to the level of excellence that brought him to this point. He is a true Olympian. The sport is better because of my son! That's how I feel."

Eric Pryor makes his way to the railing to congratulate and shake hands with his son's opponent.

Some time later, outside the arena, they finally find Jason.

Brenda wraps her son in a gigantic hug.

"Hi, my sweetie pie!" she says, kissing his cheek. "I'm so proud of you! We love you so much!"

Asked about his match, Jason tells me, "Everybody here is a Type A personality who's obsessed with winning. So when you lose you're real, real, real salty."

But he shakes off the disappointment.

"What else are you gonna do? You can crawl into a little ball and cry about losing, but it's epee. It's 15-14. And this isn't the end. This is simply one competition," he says.

At 28, Pryor is young. He's got lots more fencing in him.

And this kid from South Euclid, Ohio is an Olympian.

For right now, Brenda says, "we have some celebrationing to do!"

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We're about to experience what it's like to be an Olympian and the family of one. We first met U.S. fencer Jason Pryor a couple months back when he was training hard with one goal in mind - to win.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

JASON PRYOR: There's just this excitement shooting through you everywhere. There's just this thrill that just explodes, and then it's gone. Just like that and it's gone. You just have to keep chasing it over and over and over again.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Melissa Block met up with him again in Rio.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: Just a few days before his Olympic fencing debut and Jason Pryor said bring it on.

J. PRYOR: I've never been more ready for anything in my entire life.

BLOCK: Six years of Olympic training all about to culminate in one day.

J. PRYOR: It's definitely feeling real. I know who I'm going to fence. I know what time I'm going to fence. I know what piste I'm going to fence on. It's very, very real now.

BLOCK: Pryor is the top men's epee fencer in the U.S., ranked number 24 in the world. His opponent is ranked number 13, Benjamin Steffen. He's Swiss.

J. PRYOR: This guy has been in the top 16 this entire year. He is one of the best fencers in the world. So at this point, I just have to get rid of all that and decide to have a good day because it's just another tournament.

BLOCK: I've arranged to watch Pryor's match today with his parents, Eric and Brenda Pryor. They've flown in from South Euclid, Ohio, along with nine other family members from all around the country to cheer Jason on.

BRENDA PRYOR: Proud, excited and a very, very blessed mother.

ERIC PRYOR: I don't have buttons on my shirt anymore, just bursting.

(LAUGHTER)

E. PRYOR: But yes, we're tremendously proud.

BLOCK: We find seats in the second row inside the Carioca 3 arena.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Jason Pryor.

BLOCK: Pryor enters in his white uniform, eyes fixed. He's wearing green shoes that match the fencing strip he'll compete on. His face mask emblazoned with stars and stripes. Pryor shimmies a little with the opening music. Mom bows her head for a quiet prayer.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Fence, allez.

BLOCK: And the bout is on. Pryor and Steffen dance and parry and lunge, their epees flashing.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: All right, Jason, come on. One light, baby, one light.

BLOCK: They're evenly matched, trading touches, the lights flashing green when Pryor scores a point, red for his opponent. Brenda murmurs under her breath, stay loose, baby, stay loose. When Jason scores a point, his parents rise out of their seats.

E. PRYOR: Yes, yes, yes.

BLOCK: And when his opponent lands a touch, they urge Jason on.

B. PRYOR: It's all right, one point at a time, Jace (ph), one point at a time.

BLOCK: In epee, they fence to 15 points. The score inches up with Jason just behind, 11 to 12, 12-13, 13-14. It's match point, Jason down by one.

B. PRYOR: Find a way, Jason.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Come on, Jason. Come on, Jason.

BLOCK: But it's Steffen who scores the final touch. It's taken 11 minutes. Jason Pryor's Olympics are over.

(CHEERING)

BLOCK: He hugs his opponent. Mom and Dad look wistful, but they're smiling really big.

B. PRYOR: Our son found a way to persevere and to rise to a level of excellence. He is a true Olympian.

BLOCK: Dad Eric goes to the railing to congratulate and shake hands with his son's opponent. Some time later, outside the arena, they finally find Jason. Brenda sweeps him up in a gigantic hug.

J. PRYOR: Hey, Mom.

B. PRYOR: Hi, my sweetie pie. I'm so proud of you, oh.

BLOCK: How does he feel? Well, disappointed for sure.

J. PRYOR: I mean, everyone here is a type-A personality who's obsessed with winning. So, you know, when you lose, you're real, real, real salty.

BLOCK: But Pryor shakes it off.

J. PRYOR: I mean, well, what else are you going to do? I mean, you can crawl into a little ball and cry about losing. But, again, it's epee. It's 15-14, and this isn't the end. This is simply one competition.

BLOCK: He's just 28. He's got lots more fencing in him, and this kid from South Euclid, Ohio, is an Olympian. For now, Mom has a plan.

B. PRYOR: Well, we have some celebrating to do.

BLOCK: Melissa Block, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.