He said it was like getting to relive his wedding day, all over again.
"Everyone's nice to you all day long, and everyone wants to shake your hand," Redwood City resident Will Milne said of his recent gold-medal win at the Federation of International Escrime's (FIE) world fencing championships in Austria.
His gold medal is heavy, incredibly shiny, and undoubtedly one of his most prize possessions now.
Milne, a general contractor who just started fencing with a saber about nine years ago, has been moving quickly up the ranks in the "Veteran" age category for ages 50-59.
Last year, he took 10th place at the world championships in Catania, Italy.
"I was so disappointed," he said, shaking his head. "I was really frustrated by that."
For Milne, nothing was going to be good enough until he swept the entire championships and took home that shiny gold medal.
"I look at it this way - any time you go to one of these championships, and afterwards, people ask you how you did, with any place other than gold, it always comes with a long explanation. Like, 'yeah, I came in 10th, because of this, this and this,' and there's this long explanation of why you didn't win," he said. "When you win the gold, that's all you have to say - 'I won.' There's no other explanation needed."
"Winning the gold - it's the difference between an explanation and a story," he said.
Milne first started fencing saber after his oldest son wanted to give it a try many years ago.
"My son really wanted to do it. So I was always taking him to his lessons, and after a while, I thought, 'well, if I'm going to be here, I might as well do it too,'" he said. "It became this great 'buddy' thing to do together."
Milne said his son fenced regularly from age 10 to 16 - and though he eventually stopped the sport, Milne just kept on going.
Milne used to golf, but said it always frustrated him because of the sport's "fuzzy feedback" - in other words, whether you sink the hole in one, or completely miss it, it can be so hard to tell why either result happened.
With saber fencing, he said, "You almost always know what you did right or wrong, right away. For me, I can take that feedback and work with it, and figure things out. I found that very appealing."
After coming in 10th in Italy in 2011, Milne became even more determined than ever to get better and win that gold medal the next time around. So, he began training with the Peninsula Fencing Academy in San Carlos, with trainer Jay Choi.
In October, it was time to leave for Austria for the 2012 World Championships.
Milne said the U.S. sent approximately 110-120 competitors to the games. In his category, Veteran - Men's, there were about 45 fencers from all different countries he would have to beat.
Entering the competition, he was ranked #10 - his placing in last year's games in Italy. But, by the end of the first matchup pool, he was #1.
"I beat everyone in my pool," he said.
From there, the matchups were on a ladder system that was entirely cut-throat.
"If you lose [at that point], you're out," Milne explained.
On the ladder, he faced two fencers from Great Britain, one from France, one from Germany - and then beat out the Russian fencer for the gold medal.
It was touch-and-go for a while, though, Milne said.
"At one point, I was down 3-0, then 5-3, then 6-3," he said. "Then, I won seven in a row to win 10-6."
Milne said it was amazing to have his youngest son and his wife there in Austria with him to see him win the gold medal. He said the family made sure to take time out to enjoy Austria while they were there, as well.
Milne said they flew into Zurich, Switzerland and rented a car and drove through to Austria, stopping along the way to tour Salzburg, and see sites such as the Von Trapp family mansion, and even to take a chilling tour of a World War II concentration camp.
So, what's next, once you have the top prize you can possibly win in the world championships?
"Repeat," he said with a laugh. "I want to prove it wasn't just a fluke. Anyone can win once, and they can say it was for any number of reasons, like 'so-and-so' wasn't there, and all that. If you win it twice, it's not a fluke. Plus, it's just such an incredible feeling."
"And, next time, I don't want it to be so close," he added with a laugh.
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