LONDON - Upon his graduation from Macalester College, Ro Sobalvarro thought he might go to law school. He also thought he might move away from Minnesota, where he had lived his entire life.
Neither of those things happened. A fencer and tennis player in college, Sobalvarro was offered a job as a fencing coach and found his life's work in a familiar place. Now in his 20th year as head coach of the Twin Cities Fencing Club in St. Paul, the Owatonna native will make his debut as an Olympic coach when the women's epee competition begins Monday in London.
Sobalvarro will guide longtime pupil Susie Scanlan in Monday's individual competition and then lead the U.S. women in the team event Saturday. Scanlan, ranked 41st in the world, opens against No. 64 Olena Kryvytska of Ukraine in the round of 64 (4:30 a.m.). Courtney Hurley and Maya Lawrence -- who will join Scanlan in the team event -- received byes into the round of 32.
Several of Sobalvarro's fencers have made national teams in the past, and he has coached U.S. teams in many international events. Scanlan is his first Olympian, adding another highlight to his long career.
"I was going to be a lawyer,'' Sobalvarro said. "But I graduated from college and was offered a job starting a fencing program at a high school. Then I applied to enter an elite coaching program with USA Fencing, and they put me in it.
"I got that job, and it got interesting. There's nothing like staying interested in what you're doing.''
Scanlan said she feels little pressure for the individual competition. She has found it motivational to live in the athletes' village, where she is around thousands of world-class athletes in many sports.
China and Romania's fencers are among the favorites, as each country has three athletes ranked in the top eight in the world. Laura Flessel-Colovic of France is a three-time Olympic medalist; with five medals in her career, she is France's most decorated female Olympian.
The U.S. team will face Italy in the quarterfinals of the eight-country team event. The Americans have done well internationally, but Scanlan said team competitions often come down to a single touch, meaning they will have to summon all their tenacity.
"The team competition could be extraordinarily tight,'' Sobalvarro said. "Everyone has been inconsistent, and it's going to be very hard to predict. What we have to do as individuals is try to be fearless. Our team is capable of great things.''