(Colorado Springs, Colo.) – From becoming No. 1 in the world rankings to World Championship medals to exciting news of expanded events at the 2020 Tokyo Games, 2017 has been a year of history-making moments, impressive performances and great accomplishments.
As 2018 inches closer, here’s a look back at USA Fencing’s top moments of 2017:
Add a couple more firsts to Lee Kiefer’s resume. After last year becoming the first fencer in any weapon to win seven straight Pan American Championships, Kiefer etched her name into USA Fencing history this year when she became the first U.S. women’s foil fencer to claim a No. 1 world ranking. The No. 1 followed her gold medal at the Long Beach Grand Prix in March, in which the 23 year old also became the first U.S. women’s foil fencer to win two Grand Prix titles. With Kiefer’s fourth consecutive Grand Prix medal, third straight international podium finish and one of five medals in 2017, the two-time Olympian gave the U.S. the No. 1 fencer in both men’s and women’s foil as teammate Alex Massialas held the top men’s position.
Fencing may be known as an individual sport, but at the Veteran World Championships in October, it was the U.S. teams that overpowered the rest of the world. The Americans medaled in five of the six team events and brought home four team golds. Both epee squads took the top spot on the podium, their first medals since team competition became official in 2014. The saber teams continued their medal streaks as both have medaled at every Vet Worlds with women’s saber taking its third gold in four years. Women’s foil completed the sweep in the women’s team events, earning gold, the squad’s second in the last three years.
Men’s foil continues to be on the rise in the United States as it claimed the silver medal at the Senior World Championships in Leipzig, Germany in July. The same squad from Rio that brought home the first Olympic men’s team foil medal since 1932 with the bronze, Alex Massialas, Gerek Meinhardt, Miles Chamley-Watson and Race Imboden cruised through the first three rounds to reach the semifinals. Facing Russia, which beat the U.S. in the semis in Rio, the Americans controlled the match, taking eight of the nine bouts, before falling to Italy in the finals.
2020 just became an even bigger year for fencing in the United States. Not only will Team USA compete in Tokyo at the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, but the FIE announced last month at its annual congress in Dubai that USA Fencing will host the 2020 Junior and Cadet Worlds in Salt Lake City, Utah. The 10-day event will take place from April 3-12, 2020 at the Salt Palace Convention Center with athletes competing in junior individual and team events, as well as cadet individual and mixed team.
Make it three straight Wheelchair World Championships that Curtis Lovejoy has won a medal. Winning bronze in Category C men’s epee in Rome, Italy last month for his fifth career World Championship medal, the two-time wheelchair world champion and five-time Paralympian in both fencing and swimming entered the competition as the reigning bronze medalist in Category C epee from the 2015 Worlds. At 60 years old, Lovejoy went 2-2 in pools before outtouching his quarter-final opponent, 15-14, to guarantee a medal.
In 2016, Ibtihaj Muhammad became a household name when she became the first American to compete at an Olympic Games in a hijab. In 2018, she will become a household item. Last month, Mattel announced a Barbie created in the likeness of Muhammad, complete with her fencing whites, a saber and a hijab, making the doll the first ever Barbie to wear a hijab. Part of Barbie’s “Shero” line, which features women with inspiring stories, Muhammad won bronze at the 2016 Olympic Games as a member of the women’s saber team, becoming the first Muslim American woman to win an Olympic medal.
Held just 140 miles from the University of Notre Dame at Indiana Farmers Coliseum, the NCAA Championships were nearly a home match for the Irish, which won their ninth team title and their first since 2011. Defeating Ohio State and Columbia, Notre Dame’s 186 points marked the most in a title victory in school history and the most for a winning team since Penn State’s 191 in 2010. The Irish scored 30 or more points in four of the six weapons. With a team-high 39 points in women’s foil, it was fitting that Lee Kiefer won the bout to clinch the title. Kiefer went on to become only the third fencer in history to win four NCAA titles while Francesca Russo took the women’s saber championship.
After having its third most successful Olympic Games in Rio with four medals, Team USA will have even more chances to earn spots on the podium in 2020 as all six team events will be contested at the Olympic Games. Announced in June, the Tokyo Games will mark the first time 12 fencing events are hosted at an Olympic Games. At the 2004 Olympic Games, women’s saber was added to the program, creating gender equality, but the fencing medal total stayed at 10, resulting in two team events being rotated each Games.
Nearly a decade after winning his first Veteran World Championship title, Walter Dragonetti came out on top again in Maribor, taking the 60-69 men’s epee championship with a clutch finish. His win marked the first gold in the category in nearly 20 years as Kazimieras Campe last took the title in 60+ epee in 1998. Dragonetti, who won the 50-59 championship in 2009 and was competing at his 10th Vet Worlds, outtouched Carlo Romanelli (ITA) in the finals, 10-9. Prior, he defeated Janos Pethes (HUN), 10-4, Olexiy Polikarpov (UKR), 9-6, Roberto Di Matteo (ITA), 7-6, Francois Ringeissen (FRA), 8-6, and Jacek Szczesny (POL), 10-2.
For the second consecutive year, the junior men’s foil team has ended the season first in the FIE rankings. Highlighted by its gold at the Junior World Championships in April, Team USA also won the team title for the third consecutive year at the Pan American Junior Championships in March. The U.S. squad medaled at four of its five Junior World Cup events on the season, winning gold medals in Leszno and London, silver in Aix-En-Provence and gold in Bangkok.
Eli Dershwitz gave one of the most clutch individual performances of 2017 en route to his gold medal last month in Algeria. His first individual World Cup gold and second win on the senior World Cup circuit after taking the Seoul Grand Prix title in 2016, the gold marked the Harvard junior’s second World Cup medal of 2017. To secure the title, Dershwitz took three 15-14 victories and bested World and Olympic medalists, including two-time Senior World medalist Iulian Teodosiu (ROU), two-time Olympic medalist Junghwan Kim (KOR), 2017 Senior World Champion Andras Szatmari (HUN) and four-time Senior World Champion Veniamin Reshetnikov (RUS).
The 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo also had wheelchair fencing events added to the program, creating gender equality in the sport. With the addition of women’s saber for the first time, which will include Category A and B, there will be an equal number of men’s and women’s wheelchair fencing events for the first time in the history of the Games. One of four sports to earn additional medal allocations for Tokyo, there will be 16 golds up for grabs in wheelchair fencing. For the United States, the last medal won by a female at a Wheelchair World Championships was in women’s saber in 2013 when Cat Bouwkamp won bronze.
The U.S. squad hit double digits in the medal count at the Junior and Cadet World Championships this spring with five cadet and six junior medals. The men’s foil team took the top spot on the podium, marking the seventh time in the last nine years the squad has medaled at Junior Worlds. The junior women’s foil and epee teams took silver and bronze, respectively, while in the individual competition, Kasia Nixon (epee) earned silver and Karol Metryka (saber) and Iman Blow (foil) claimed bronze. At Cadet Worlds, Christopher Walker won silver in men’s saber and men’s epee had two Americans on the podium in Ryan Griffiths and Jonathan Piskovatskov. For the women, Elizabeth Tartakovsky (saber) and Natalie Minark (foil) won each won bronze.
While held in paradise, it was all business in St. Thomas at the Pan Am Youth and Veteran Championships, where Team USA won a record-setting 106 medals. Beating last year’s record of 82, the U.S. swept the golds on three of the five days of competition, more than tripling the medal count of all the other competing countries combined. Team USA claimed nearly 75 percent of the podium finishes, including 17 of the 18 golds in the veteran events, and swept the podium in 15 events.
The 2017 senior women’s foil team added its name to the history books in July, winning the silver medal for its best result ever at a World Championships. The squad’s second-ever Senior World Championship medal, the silver marked the return to the podium at Worlds for the first time since 2001 and equaled the team’s best result on the big stage as it won silver in 2008 at the Beijing Olympic Games. Seeded third, Lee Kiefer, Nicole Ross, Nzingha Prescod and Margaret Lu defeated Argentina and China before edging out 2016 Senior World Team Champion Russia, 45-42, in the semis.
From Olympian to Veteran World Champion, Leslie Marx added more hardware to her collection as the most successful U.S. fencer at Vet Worlds with two gold medals. Her first year eligible for the team, the 1996 Olympian won gold in the individual women’s 50-59 epee event on opening day of the competition before anchoring Team USA to gold in the team event days later. Going 5-1 in pools, dominated her competition, including her first-round opponent, 10-1. Her only close bout came in the semifinals, where she edged out Ewa Borowa (ITA), 7-6, before going on for a 10-5 victory for gold.
Making history in the sport of fencing is nothing new for Alex Massialas and in 2017 he accomplished a big first: becoming the first U.S. man in history to win the Overall Men’s Foil World Cup Champion twice. One of two U.S. men to earn the title, Massialas claimed the 2016-17 title with podium finishes at three events on the World Cup circuit. He won gold at the Paris World Cup while taking silver at the Torino Grand Prix and the Absolute Fencing Gear Long Beach Grand Prix. He also was the silver medalist at the Pan American Championships, marking his seventh career medal at the event.
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