“The stereotypical fencer is white, nerdy… Similar to you actually,” says Miles Chamley-Watson, causing himself and the room to erupt with laughter.
As a tall, lanky white dude with hipster glasses, yours truly fits that description to a tee. But one look at Miles, the Olympic medal- and world championship-winning fencer, and it becomes clear that the perception he was outlining does not apply.
A biracial super-athlete with tattoos layered across his chiseled chest, arms, and back; bleach-blonde hair; and two gold earrings to match, Miles is changing fencing—and not just the look of it. He’s given it mainstream relevance. MCW has been featured in magazine spreads, hung out with Rihanna at the Met Gala, taken up modeling as a side hustle, and most notably, was the first American ever to win the Foil World Championships—the second biggest tournament a fencer can compete in (behind the Olympics).
Of course, things weren’t always as rosy for Miles. “Coming from London to New York [as a kid]… I was made fun of for the way I spoke, the way I looked, for fencing,” he recalls. “I was also a pain in the ass, so that didn’t really help.”
At 15 years old, Miles won the Junior Olympics. Shortly thereafter, every major fencing college in the country was recruiting him. Miles knew he was great early on, but a poor showing at the 2012 Olympics in London (his hometown)—after being a heavy favorite to medal heading in—filled him with doubt.
“Going to the Olympics and coming back with nothing. That was probably one of the lowest points,” Miles admits. “You do think about quitting and what’s next.”
Like all great athletes do, Miles turned the disappoint into a fire, which burned strong through the 2013 Foil World Championships in Budapest. He dominated the tournament and earned a gold medal. Three years later, MCW won a bronze in the Rio Olympics.
For over a decade, Miles has competed on the world’s biggest stages, and the pressure is always on. Stepping into battle alone, he represents his country, his coaches, his family, and himself with thousands (sometimes millions) of eyeballs trained on him. However, that’s not the only pressure Miles feels.
“I don’t just have to win for myself,” he says. “I have to help the sport out.” Popularizing fencing is one of Miles' main objectives. The same can be said about winning a gold medal in Tokyo in 2020, which he’s already focused on.
“I’m super driven. So until I reach all of my goals, good luck stopping me.”