Team USA medalists Honor Johnson, Chloe Gouhin and Donghwan Park. Photo Credit: Nicole Jomantas
(Torun, Poland) – Three members of Team USA’s six-person men’s and women’s saber squad reached the podium at the Cadet World Championships for the first time since 2012 on Sunday.
Chloe Gouhin (Blacklick, Ohio) won silver in the women’s competition with teammates Honor Johnson (Bethesda, Md.) and Donghwan Park (Sacramento, Calif.) earning bronze in the women’s and men’s events, respectively.
Gouhin and Park entered the event as first-time team members with Johnson returning to her second World Team at just 15 years old.
Both Johnson and Gouhin went undefeated in pools with Johnson finishing 6-0 and Gouhin ending at 5-0 in a pool that had a withdrawal. The results put them in the No. 1 and 4 seeds, respectively – aligning the Americans for a semifinal matchup later in the day.
In the table of 64, Gouhin dominated her bout against Ana Mihailova (BUL), ending the first period at 8-1 and taking six unanswered touches in the second before finishing the bout at 15-2.
Gouhin led her bout against Vlada Plekhanova (RUS), 8-5, at the break, but the Russian started the second period strong with three straight to tie the score first at eight and then at nine. Gouhin pulled away, however, ending with a 6-2 run to close the bout at 15-11.
In the 16 against Roksana Bartosz (POL), Gouhin found herself in a similar situation, leading the bout, 8-5, at the break before Bartosz cut the lead to one at 9-8 early in the second period. Gouhin pulled away, however, building a 14-11 lead. She gave up a touch on a red card for false starting before ending the bout at 15-12.
Gouhin would need to dig herself out of a hole to stay in medal contention during her next bout against Sugar Katinka Battai (HUN) who took a 6-2 lead in the first and ended the period up 8-5. With Battai leading at 11-8, Gouhin mounted her comeback, scoring five straight touches to pull ahead at 13-11. Gouhin gave up one more touch, but used the momentum change to win the bout, 15-12, with a 7-1 run in the final minutes to secure a podium finish at her first Cadet Worlds.
“Today I did a lot of things I never did before, in terms of pushing myself and strategizing. In that bout with Battai, the momentum shifted several times, but it didn’t actually change my mentality towards the bout,” said Gouhin who came into the tournament ranked 45th in the Cadet European Rankings. “It’s been a very up and down season and I had to work on being consistent today.”
After a bye into the table of 32, Johnson was challenged by Heidi Yan Kay Loo (SGP) who led their bout, 8-7, at the break and stayed up, 13-12, in the second before Johnson finished with three of the next four touches for a 15-13 win.
In the next bout, however, Johnson left little to doubt, shutting out Alisiya Malazhavaya (BLR), 8-0, in the first period and taking the bout, 15-3.
Johnson was on a tear in the quarter-finals against Candela Belen Espinosa Velosio (ARG), scoring five straight in the second to take a 13-5 lead before Velosio came back determined to stay in the bout. Velosio took four straight as she cut Johnson’s lead to 14-12, but Johnson held on to take the final touch and guarantee a medal with a 15-12 victory.
In the semifinals, Gouhin controlled the first period, 8-1, but Johnson came back in the second, coming within four touches of her teammate before Gouhin clinched the bout, 15-10.
“I tried to treat it like a normal bout, but in the end I was fighting as hard as I could,” Johnson said.
The bronze medal win comes after an 11th place finish at the 2018 Cadet Worlds.
“It feels really great because I put a lot of work and effort in training for this tournament and it’s good to see I’ve improved a lot,” Johnson said. “Last year I was just coming off of an injury, so I was kind of nervous about fencing which threw me off a little bit. This year I was more go with the flow and realized that it doesn’t matter how you do as long as you fence as well as you can.”
Gouhin said she enjoyed the semifinal bout against her teammate and looks forward to fencing Johnson in the future.
“I’ve always admired Honor and I think her fencing’s very beautiful, very elegant,” Gouhin said. “I think she maybe got a little nervous before the bout happened and maybe that affected her strategy, but otherwise, I hope to get a chance to fence her again soon, because it was a very fun bout. I really do enjoy fencing her.”
In the finals, Gouhin found herself trailing Luca Szucs (HUN), 8-1, after the first period and would need to fight her way back into the bout.
“That bout was another test that I had to do and see what I was capable of. I did let up and she took advantage of that entirely. It was only a few minutes and then it got to the break and it was 8-1,” Gouhin said. “Then I realized that I could make this a closer bout, but that I had to fight for it and make the effort, subconsciously and consciously.”
Gouhin cut the Hungarian’s lead to 9-7 and seemed poised to pull off an upset, but Szucs finished strong, ending the bout, 15-10, to take gold.
“I think we were on par with each other in terms of skill. It’s just that her technique clashed with mine and she figured out what she needed to get points before I did and so she beat me,” Gouhin said.
The medal is Gouhin’s first international podium of the season.
“It’s just a good ending to a chaotic season that’s been an emotional roller coaster for me. Obviously I wanted first today, but it feels really good to be up there on the podium,” Gouhin said. “I wanted to test myself and see how it would go. I was trying out new things and I had been working really hard at practice. I didn’t know my capabilities, so it was a good time to test what I could do.”
A native of Ohio, the high school junior trains at both the Columbus Fencing and Fitness Academy and Nellya Fencers, traveling to Atlanta to train with Coach Terrence Lasker (Atlanta, Ga.) – himself a former Cadet World medalist who earned bronze in 1994.
“I have a really supportive club in Ohio and I have a few fencers there that I work with and they’re all very good,” Gouhin said. “But Terrence is my coach and we mesh very well. So usually during a long weekend or during breaks from school, I will either drive or fly down to Atlanta.”
With Nellya being more than eight hours away from home, Gouhin expressed her thankfulness to the families that have allowed her to stay with them while she trains.
“Tori Johnson has welcomed me into her home, the Anglade family, the Greenbaum family, the Wiggers … It’s a very supportive community. They’ve always been there for me. They’ve definitely made it a lot easier,” Gouhin said. “It’s already hard enough to make the drive or get a flight. But if I had to deal with a hotel and everything, it would be so much harder and they’ve all helped tremendously.”
In the men’s competition, 17-year-old Park dropped just one bout in pools for a 5-1 finish and defeated Yining Jiang (CHN), 15-8, after a bye into the 64.
Park built an 8-5 lead against Emirhan Ciftci (TUR) in the 32 and closed the bout at 15-8.
Park’s next opponent would be his teammate, 16-year-old Luke Linder (Chandler, Ariz.) who went 6-0 in pools and came into the bout with 15-9 and 15-14 wins against Sean Elisha Tze Li Koh (SGP) and Bilgehan Sahlan (TUR), respectively.
A win would guarantee either athlete the opportunity to fence for a medal in the quarter-final rounds. Linder led the bout, 4-3, early in the first period, but Park went on a 5-1 run to end the period at 8-5. Linder changed the momentum in the second, twice coming within a touch of tying the bout before Park scored the final two winning touches to finish with a 15-12 victory.
“My plan against Luke was just to stay relaxed,” Park said. “He had the upper hand. We’ve fenced lots of times and he’s beaten me more than I’ve beaten him, but I just wanted to stay calm, stay low and I just implemented what I’ve been working on the whole day.”
Fencing for a position on the podium, Park took a 9-4 lead against Pazilbek Genjebaev (UZB) who came back in the second, coming within a touch of Park at 11-10. Park outscored Genjebaev, 4-1, to increase his lead to 14-11 and held off his opponent’s late comeback to close at 15-13.
“I was just focused on staying low, being relaxed. Usually I’m really jittery and I rush things, but today I really tried to calm down. I used all my energy to calm down,” Park said.
In the semis, Giorgio Marciano (ITA) was up, 7-6, when Park injured his knee and called for a brief medical timeout. He returned to the bout with Marciano scoring the next touch to finish the period at 8-6.
“My knee hurt really bad for 30 seconds and then it got better,” Park said. “I was thinking about if I could even continue and how I was going to fence with potentially a hurt leg, but fortunately it stopped hurting after a while.”
While Park came back in the second period to tie the bout first at 10 and then at 11, the Italian scored four straight to end the bout, 15-11.
“Throughout the day I was just focusing on being consistent. Usually I change my strategy throughout the day, but today I tried to keep the same thing and work on it throughout the day,” Park said. “My goal today was top four and I hit it, so I’m really happy.”
In addition to Linder, two additional members of Team USA finished in the round of 16.
Sixteen-year-olds Mikaela Avakian (Arcadia, Calif.) and Nick Lortkipanidze (Mount Kisco, N.Y.) each earned top 16 results at their first Cadet World Championships after earning gold at the 2019 Junior Olympic Championships in February.
Avakian went 5-1 in pools and won each of her first two direct elimination bouts by 15-9 scores against Leanne Hui Wen Chan (SGP) and Wenxu Song (CHN). Avakian fenced a close bout in the 16, but lost to Amalia Aime (FRA), 15-12.
Lortkipanidze also finished the pool rounds with a 5-1 record which gave him a bye into the table of 64 where he defeated Nick Dinu (CAN), 15-10. Lortkipanidze won his next bout, 15-11, over Bote Schaafsma (NED), but lost to Marciano, 15-5.
The saber events will conclude on Monday at the Junior World Championships with team competitions for both the men and women where Team USA is the reigning silver medalist in the women’s event and bronze in the men’s.
Team lineups are as follows:
Junior Men’s Saber
Mitchell Saron (Ridgewood, N.J.)
Kamar Skeete (Duluth, Ga.)
Christopher Walker (Atlanta, Ga.)
Erwin Cai (Marietta, Ga.)
Junior Women’s Saber
Chloe Fox-Gitomer (Portland, Ore.)
Ryan Jenkins (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.)
Tori Johnson (Peachtree City, Ga.)
Nora Burke (New York City, N.Y.)
Top eight and U.S. results are as follows:
Cadet Men’s Saber World Championships
1. Vasyl Humen (UKR)
2. Giorgio Marciano (ITA)
3. Donghwan Park (Sacramento, Calif.)
3. Dohun Lee (KOR)
5. Artem Terekhov (RUS)
6. Byungsoo Kim (KOR)
7. Pazilbek Genjebaev (UZB)
8. Dmitriy Nasonov (RUS)
10. Luke Linder (Chandler, Ariz.)
11. Nick Lortkipanidze (Mount Kisco, N.Y.)
Cadet Women’s Saber World Championships
1. Luca Szucs (HUN)
2. Chloe Gouhin (Blacklick, Ohio)
3. Honor Johnson (Bethesda, Md.)
3. Benedetta Fusetti (ITA)
5. Sugar Katinka Battai (HUN)
6. Amalia Aime (FRA)
7. Sebin Kim
8. Candela Belen Espinosa Veloso (ARG)
10. Mikaela Avakian (Arcadia, Calif.)
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