A two-time Olympian who dabbles in hip-hop, DJing and modeling is the latest athlete to use his platform to send a message, taking a knee on the podium during the national anthem and medal ceremony Friday at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.
“We must call for change,” the man behind the Team USA mask wrote in a series of tweets. “This week I am honored to represent Team USA at the Pan-Am Games, taking home gold and bronze. My pride however has been cut short by the multiple shortcomings of the country I hold so dear to my heart. Racism, gun control, mistreatment of immigrants, and a president who spreads hate are at the top of a long list.
“I chose to sacrifice my moment today at the top of the podium to call attention to issues that I believe need to be addressed. I encourage others to please use your platforms for empowerment and change.”
The 26-year-old redhead is no stranger to headlines or to protests. A 2016 Olympic team event bronze medalist, he and teammate Miles Chamley-Watson took a knee during the anthem at a World Cup event in Egypt in 2017. He won a world championship gold medal, his first, in team last month but stood for the anthem at that time.
At the Pan Am Games last week, Imboden shared bronze in men’s foil with Canadian Maximilien van Haaster and teamed with Gerek Meinhardt and Nick Itkin to win gold in team foil. Meinhardt and Itkin stood for the anthem. Last month, the three, along with Alexander Massialas, won their first world title, becoming one of the favorites to win gold in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Imboden, who was born in Tampa, first took up inline skating and BMX, but it was his prowess while playing with a toy sword as an 8-year-old inspired by “Star Wars” and samurais that brought him to fencing. Living in Atlanta with his family, he was spotted by a stranger who suggested the sport to his parents while watching him play in a park. His family moved to New York and, when he was old enough, he joined a fencer’s club, qualifying for international competition for the first time when he was 14.
He qualified for the 2012 London Games as a member of the top-ranked team in the Americas zone and was seeded fourth in what was an emotional competition following the death of his grandmother. He finished ninth, but his plan was lofty. “My goal is to take fencing to the next level,” he told Yahoo that year.
His confidence led Yahoo’s Greg Wyshynski to write “one begins to believe there’s a sensation here ready to break big in the U.S. He’s a charismatic spokesman for his sport, and a Brooklyn hipster with a memorable look: a shock of red hair on top, with shaved sides. It’s a little Morrissey, a little Conan O’Brien; Imboden refers to it as the ‘classical mad man haircut.’ ”
Maybe a little bit of Shaun White, too. Imboden also happens to be a DJ and picked up a love for Souls of Mischief and J Dillan as an intern at a record label called Fool’s Gold. “We all get pumped up to hip-hop,” he told the New York Post, speaking of his teammates.
He also has worked as a model, turning up in a Rag & Bone video with featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov, in J. Crew catalogues and on the runway for Louis Vuitton. Modeling and fencing complement each other, he told Fashionista in 2015. “When I got back from the  Games, I had built up a little press around myself. Things were starting to take shape, and I was able to fence full-time. Fencing doesn’t have the publicity that modeling does, but by modeling I get publicity for my fencing as well because my stuff is either [framed in the context of] me as an athlete or they look me up. I let them bounce off each other.”
Imboden qualified for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics as a reserve for the team foil event but was called up to compete and helped the team win bronze, its first of any color since the 1932 Olympics.
“I’ve worked a lot in quieting my mind. Fencing’s a lot about being mentally prepared,” he told Yahoo in 2012. “Sometimes you have too much stuff buzzing around in there, and it’s not good for you. So I worked a lot on focusing on things. What my footwork is. What the ground feels like when I’m moving around. Things that trigger larger things in my head.”
Imboden’s recent protest may draw a punishment, with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee saying in a statement that all U.S. athletes had signed an agreement saying they would not “make remarks or release propaganda of political, religious or racial nature, or any other kind” during the Games.
“Every athlete competing at the 2019 Pan American Games commits to terms of eligibility, including to refrain from demonstrations that are political in nature,” USOPC spokesman Mark Jones told Reuters in a statement.
“In this case, Race didn’t adhere to the commitment he made to the organizing committee and the USOPC. We respect his rights to express his viewpoints, but we are disappointed that he chose not to honor his commitment. Our leadership are reviewing what consequences may result.”
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