LONDON — When Seth Kelsey was 12, he took his first fencing lesson. His instructor, former Polish Olympic coach Ed Korfanty, was impressed.
Kelsey was a natural, Korfanty said, equipped with the required focus and determination for fencing success. He might, Korfanty added, even win an Olympic medal someday.
Kelsey, a 2003 Air Force Academy graduate, came close to making Korfanty’s prediction come true. On Wednesday, Kelsey lost, 12-11, to South Korea’s Jung Jinsun in the bronze medal bout of Olympic epee fencing competition.
Kelsey’s path to the bronze bout was a difficult one. He barely survived his round of 32 opening bout with China’s Li Guojie, 8-7, before moving to the round of 16, where he faced No. 1 seed Nikolai Novosjolov from Estonia.
He defeated Novosjolov, 15-11, controlling the entire bout. He was even more impressive in the quarterfinals, defeating Venezuela’s Silvio Fernandez, 15-9.
This string of victories encouraged Kelsey, who is competing in his third Olympics. He had not previously won a bout.
“I’ve always been disappointed in my previous Olympic performances,” Kelsey said. “Today, I beat three good guys.”
His momentum initially continued in the semifinal match. He took a 2-0 lead in the semis over Lim Gascon, but still lost the bout, 6-5. This semifinal bout against Gascon offered an interesting battle of contrasts. Gascon is 5-foot-9, 175 pounds. Kelsey is 6-4, 210 pounds.
Kelsey came achingly close again in the bronze bout. He trailed for most of the contest, but finally caught Jung Jinsun at 11. With the medal on the line, Kelsey asked Jung Jinsun if he wanted to determine the match with one final touch. Epee rules allow the competitors to make this choice.
Jung Jinsun said yes.
“I mean, it’s for an Olympic medal,” Kelsey said. “All in one touch.”
Kelsey appeared to be remarkably calm about his bold gamble. One reporter even asked if he had learned such strategy from playing poker. (Kelsey said no.)
“You win some,” Kelsey said. “You lose some.”
Jung Jinsun soon ended Kelsey’s long day. Jung Jinsun touched Kelsey’s yellow athletic shoe on the toe. The bout was over, along with Kelsey’s medal chances.
During the many hours of competition, Kelsey was cheered by several dozen supporters. His parents, who had flown to the Olympics from Portland, Ore., led the cheers. Many of Kelsey’s fans wore tie-dyed shirts that read, “Team Kelsey.”
Kelsey led Air Force to a ninth-place finish at the 2003 NCAA fencing championship, where he also won the epee national title.