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Fencing: Jason Rogers is taking the Rhodes less traveled

August 6, 2008 | 11:31 pm

BEIJING — Jason Rogers is smart.

Smart enough to graduate summa cum laude from Ohio State  with one B in four years. Smart enough to be a finalist for the Rhodes scholarship.

Jason Rogers But not smart enough, apparently, to see into the future. Because when the West Los Angeles fencer’s life stalled at a crossroads three years ago, he wasn’t sure which path was going to help him more.  If he took the Rhodes scholarship, he would have to give up a fencing career that had already produced four national championships, three World Cup medals, a silver and bronze in World Cup competition and an Olympic berth in men's sabre. And if he chose fencing, what, then, would happen to his academic future?

"It was sort of like a fork in the road," Rogers said Thursday, stopping on the way to get his first look at Beijing’s new fencing venue. "I was either going to choose more competitive athletics. Or I was going to go the academic route.

"It’s hard to see which one could actually benefit you more."

In the end, it turned out to be a decision Rogers never had to make. Because after making it to the end of the Rhodes competition, he wasn’t picked after all to go to Oxford. He went back to fencing -– and eventually that road led to Beijing.

"The experience in and of itself was one of the most edifying things I’ve ever done," said Rogers, 25, proving Rhodes scholar finalists really do use words like 'edifying' in normal conversation.  "I was definitely disappointed because I would have loved to have gone off to Oxford. [But] I'd like to think things happen for a reason. I think it a really adaptive way to think about all of the various things that happen to you.

"So for example in this case I didn't get the Rhodes and it's like, 'You know what? Maybe it was supposed to be like that. Maybe I'll go on to have more success on the other route.'

"But I'm not a fatalist. I also kind of believe that things are what you make it, how you perceive the experience, the things that happen to you. It's hard not to sit here three years later, after not having gotten the Rhodes scholarship and having a really difficult qualifying season and just making the team and not think like, 'This was supposed to happen.' "

What's going to happen next, of course, he can't say. But after helping the U.S. finish a surprising fourth in the team competition in Athens four years ago it's not unrealistic to think Rogers could go home with a medal this time.

And if he does, he just might have the Rhodes process to thank for the improvement.

"They both, in a lot of ways, come down to how’s your work ethnic," Rogers, a psychology major who hopes to work in sports psychology, said of the similarities between fencing and academics. "Your focus is the same. They’re definitely sort of kindred spirits in that sense. There's no question that there's a lot of transferable skills in the two."

-- Kevin Baxter

Photo of Jason Rogers courtesy of USA Fencing