Words like “prodigy” and “Olympian” are frequently used to describe Race Imboden, a 19-year-old Park Slope resident who is ranked number one in the country and ranked fifth in the world for fencing. He is the youngest top-ranked fencer on the planet.
But this Brooklynite, who will first compete in the 2012 London Olympic Games during the Men's Individual Foil competition on Tuesday, July 31, is not just one of the world’s best fencers, he is also a local kid who DJs parties and just finished interning at Fool’s Gold Records in Williamsburg last month.
Fool’s Gold releases hip-hop and electronic music and brought artists like Danny Brown, Kid Cudi and Duck Sauce to the music scene. Their flagship store, on Metropolitan Avenue, sells albums, clothes and art. Imboden worked there for four months, until this past June.
Ben Jacobs, who was Race’s boss during his internship and is the record label’s general manager, told Patch all about Park Slope’s very own Olympian.
“From square one, he wandered in here on a Saturday, and said, ‘Hey, I’m Race, and I want to intern here,’” Jacobs told Patch. “It was pretty clear from meeting him that he was a interesting and unique guy.”
Jacobs said he nailed the interview and started working for them at their store, between Union and Lorimer streets. His boss said that they gave Imboden a flexible schedule, two to three days a week, so he could practice and compete while gearing up for the London Olympics.
And Jacobs said that Imboden was always thinking about his sport, and his readiness for the Games while at work:
“I remember a time when he was helping us install some drapes in the store, and he was a little concerned about being on the ladder, he thought he might be putting his Olympic career in jeopardy if something were to happen to him,” Jacobs said. “So, we took him off that task.”
On April 15, Imboden was officially named a member of the 2012 US Olympic team for the men's foil event. In 2011 and 2012, at the junior world championships, Imboden helped the US win the team gold medal and he also won himself a gold. During the 2011 Pan-American championships, he helped his team snag a gold medal.
But, one of his biggest bouts was last year, as an 18-year-old kid, he defeated Germany’s four-time world champion Peter Joppic.
“He was definitely one of the best interns we have had to date, he’s a hard working guy,” Jacobs said. “He’s very interested in the music industry and the business side of things, and we hope he comes back.”
He said that Imboden, who has been fencing since he was 10, has a strong personality.
“He’s definitely confident, and seems older than his actual years. I was shocked to learn how young he is,” Jacobs said. “We have a shop and popular label here and tons of people are coming in and out, so you can tell when someone has a certain aura about them and we liked him off the bat.
Jacobs said that they supported his fencing every way they could.
Imboden’s competitors are mostly ten years older than him. In a video by THNKR, a bi-weekly series called Prodigies showcases young talents, his coach, Jed Dupree — who was a 2004 Olympian — said Imboden’s potential as a fencer was apparent right away.
“From a very early age you could see when he was holding his foil he was very confident and wasn’t intimidated by people with more experience,” Dupree said, who has been his coach for five years.
In the same video, the Park Slope DJ who reportedly eats at on Seventh Avenue, said his appearance, which other media outlets are dubbing him as a “hipster,” helps his game.
“When you look at the best athletes in the world, usually they have something that drives them. They have a chip on their shoulder,” Imboden said during the THNKR video. “And I think for me that was just from the get go in my sport I wasn’t the average fencer, I wasn’t clean cut, I had long hair.”
And as an intern, he also stood out.
Imboden “did a little bit of everything,” from helping customers in the store to Fool’s Gold’s shipping department. But, it was one of his quirks that his boss remembers.
“We noticed that while he was working, he would typically sigh a lot, it became a funny thing over here,” Jacobs said. “It was written off as a breathing technique he used while fencing or something he used for conditioning, but it stood out, he was a heavy breather and sigher.”
Jacobs said that Imboden “worked hard and fast” and was enthralled with the music coming out of Fool’s Gold.
“He seemed to be pretty knowledgeable in music, and I think he picked up a lot by listening and speaking with one of the co-owners and DJ, Nick Catchdubs,” Jacobs said, explaining that DJs Nick Catchdubs and A-Trak founded record label. “Race was very inquisitive and interested in music and the industry.”
According to an article in The New York Post, Imboden has an ear for hip-hop group Souls of Mischief (remember the song ’93 Til Infinity?) and the late hip-hop producer and artist J Dilla, thanks to his time at Fool’s Gold.
Imboden didn’t brag to his employers about being on the US Olympic fencing team, but they did know that he was pretty highly ranked. He left for a tournament, and came back as a qualifier in April:
“That’s really when we learned how prestigious his position was and what he was doing, but it was clear from the get-go that he was talented and was going to succeed,” Jacobs said. “Fencing is an extremely big part of his life, you can tell how dedicated he was to the sport.”
His last day at work, they all went to a restaurant and Imboden just ordered his food and as it arrived to the table, his cellphone rang.
“He ran outside and it was pouring rain, it looked like it was a serious conversation. He rain back inside and said, ‘They do random drug testing for the Olympics and they are at my apartment right now. I have to be there in 30 minutes, I have to go,’” Jacobs remembered.
“He absolutely just sprinted out in the middle of lunch down the street in the pouring rain, and he was off,” Jacobs said. “And that’s the last time I’ve seen him.”