Nicole Ross won her first career Pan Am gold while Eli Dershwitz took his fourth title to sweep the golds on Day 1.
(Toronto, Canada) – Team USA kicked off the Pan American Championships with three medals as 2018 World Championship silver medalist Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn, Mass.) and 2012 Olympian Nicole Ross (New York, N.Y.) won the men’s saber and women’s foil titles, respectively, with 2016 Olympic silver medalist Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y.) earning silver in men’s saber.
Entering as the reigning champion, Dershwitz now has four Pan Am Championship titles, the most for a U.S. men’s saber fencer in history as he eyes retaining his World No. 1 going into next month’s Senior World Championships. For Ross, the title marks the first of her career and fifth straight podium finish at the tournament. She also keeps Team USA’s winning streak alive as a U.S. women’s foilist has won gold at every Pan American Championships since the event started in 2006.
“I’m just happy I came out with the ‘W,’” Dershwitz said. “I started off today pretty strong in pools and I was just trying to stay focused the entire day, make sure I was sharp moving up and down the strip. I’ve been working out really hard, practicing really hard and I just wanted to make sure I gave it my all all day.””
A Rio Olympian and the 2017-18 Overall World Cup Champion, Dershwitz went 5-0 in pools to take the No. 2 seed behind Homer and a bye into the table of 16.
With 15-6 wins over Andrew Richardson (PUR) and Marc Gelinas (CAN), Dershwitz reached the semifinal, where he faced another Canadian, 2012 Pan Am Champion Joseph Polossifakis.
Dershwitz jumped out to a 5-1 lead, but Polossifakis closed the gap to 8-5 at the break. Entering the second period, Dershwitz came out strong again, scoring three straight touches and setting up an All-American final with a 15-10 victory.
Homer, who won this event in 2011 and most recently in 2017, entered the event ranked No. 16 in the world.
After posting a 15-8 win over Eliecer Romero (VEN), Homer fenced his teammate from the Peter Westbrook Foundation, Khalil Thompson (Teaneck, N.J.), who reached the quarters with a 15-9 victory over Bruno Pekelman (BRA) and a 15-6 effort over Gibran Zea (MEX).
Homer came out of the gates strong, jumping out to a 7-1 lead and holding on for a 15-8 victory to clinch his seventh career Pan Am medal.
“Khalil and I fence every day, we have the same coach and we talk about fencing all the time together,” Homer said. “We text each other regularly, so we know each other really, really well. I just approached the bout the same way I do every one. I tried to figure out what he was trying to do tactically and try to dismantle that.”
In the semifinals, Homer was dominant, controlling his bout over Pascual Maria Di Tella (ARG), 15-3, to set up the All-American final with Dershwitz.
“I just wanted to keep it light, relaxed and let myself compete at a high level,” Homer said of his mindset for the day. “I’ve been preparing myself for a variety of different types of matches and I really saw that preparation do well today, so I was really happy with that.”
In their fourth meeting at the Pan Am Championships in the last five years, the bout went down to the final touch. Dershwitz took an 8-5 lead at the break, but Homer came back to tie the score at 10. Close the rest of the way, Dershwitz just outtouched his teammate for his sixth career Pan Am podium finish.
“Honestly there is no key. We practice together so much,” Dershwitz said. “We’re both high-level fencers. It just comes down to you have to make a decision. You have to go for it. If it doesn’t work out, you try something else. That’s the game of fencing. That’s the mental chess. We went back and forth the entire final. I felt we were both having a lot of fun, high fiving each other after great touches. I’m just happy I came out with a strong finish.”
The last tournament before the World Championships next month, Dershwitz enters with momentum on his side as he will enter as the back-to-back Pan Am Champion as well as the silver medalist from the last event of the season at the Moscow Grand Prix.
“Honestly, it’s a huge confidence boost,” Dershwitz said. “Right now, I’m trying to just stay healthy physically and stay sharp mentally. I had an up and down season, but I’m coming off a silver medal at the last Grand Prix. With today’s gold, I’m feeling good. I just have to make sure in the next few weeks I keep working hard, training and get myself into the best shape physically and mentally to prepare myself for a tough couple days in Budapest.”
Jeff Spear (Wynantskill, N.Y.), a 2012 Olympian who won bronze at this event in 2017, edged out Victor Conteras (CHI) in the table of 32, 15-13, but came up short in the 16 to Fares Arfa (CAN), 15-8.
In the women’s foil event, a new champion was crowned as Ross came out on top in a day where three overtime wins would be required for gold.
Ross started her day with two quick wins over Ivania Carolina Carballo Barrera (ESA), 15-5, and Lucia Ondarts (ARG), 15-7.
Fencing teammate Jackie Dubrovich (Hoboken, N.J.), who qualified first out of pools and defeated Alanna Goldie (CAN), 15-9, at her first Pan American Championships, in the quarter-finals, Ross needed a come-from-behind win to keep her medal streak alive.
Dubrovich took an early 6-1 lead and still holding at 12-7, Ross made her run, scoring five straight touches to tie the score at 12. Dubrovich responded and came within one point of victory at 14-12, but Ross once again came back and secured her 14th touch to send the bout to overtime. With momentum now on Ross’ side, she earned the decisive touch, 15-14.
“I have enormous respect for Jackie as a competitor,” Ross said. “She’s had an amazing year so far and is continuing to fence well and put up big results. It’s obviously really tough that we drew each other at that point in the competition. Like when I’m fencing any opponent, I try to fight, stay in the bout and have confidence in my abilities. She fenced a great match and this time it went my way.”
The semifinals saw Ross take on World No. 22 Eleanor Harvey (CAN), who had upset Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky.) in the quarter-finals. In a low-scoring bout, Harvey led 1-0 at the first break and Ross tied it up at two at the second break.
With time winding down, Ross went up 5-4 with 30 seconds remaining, but two seconds later, Harvey responded and the bout went to overtime. With Harvey having priority, Ross lunged in for the touch and secured gold with 37 seconds remaining on the clock.
“I love the overtime,” Ross said. “I think it’s a fun kind of game situation and I try just smile and be relaxed going into it – be proud of the work that I did in the previous nine minutes. I try to stay loose and not put too much pressure on myself, but just try to feel the action and enjoy it.”
In the final against Canadian up-and-comer and 14-year-old Jessica Guo – who shocked the field earlier this season with a top-eight finish at the St. Maur World Cup – Guo took took a 9-8 lead going into the second break. Staying calm, Ross scored two touches to take a 10-9 lead, but Guo equalized at 10 at the end of regulation. With gold on the line, Ross clinched the victory with a single green light 25 seconds into the period.
“Gold feels amazing. I’m really thrilled to have won this competition for the first time,” Ross said. “I’ve been on the podium here five times before and this is really special for me, especially in the Olympic year. I’m super honored to have fenced all the people I did today. It’s a tough competition and everyone’s fighting super hard, so congrats to all the participants and the finalists.”
Two-time Olympian and 2009 Pan Am Champion Nzingha Prescod (Brooklyn, N.Y.) also finished in the top eight. As the No. 2 seed out of pools, Prescod overcame Gabriela Cecchini (BRA), 15-12, before losing to last year’s silver medalist, Kelleigh Ryan (CAN), 15-6.
Kiefer was going for her 10th straight Pan Am Championship gold medal and looked poised to repeat after her table of 16 bout, in which she gave up just two points to Mariana Pistoia (BRA), 15-2.
However, with Kiefer up 13-12, Harvey brought the streak to an end and handed Kiefer her first direct elimination loss at the Pan Ams in 10 years, scoring the final three points.
Top eight and U.S. results are as follows:
Women’s Foil Pan American Championships
1. Nicole Ross (New York, N.Y.)
2. Jessica Guo (CAN)
3. Eleanor Harvey (CAN)
3. Kelleigh Ryan (CAN)
5. Jackie Dubrovich (Hoboken, N.J.)
6. Nzingha Prescod (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
7. Saskia Loretta Van Erven Garcia (COL)
8. Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky.)
Men’s Saber Pan American Championships
1. Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn, Mass.)
2. Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y.)
3. Joseph Polossifakis (CAN)
3. Pascual Maria Di Tella (ARG)
5. Shaul Gordon (CAN)
6. Fares Arfa (CAN)
7. Khalil Thompson (Teaneck, N.J.)
7. Marc Gelinas (CAN)
15. Jeff Spear (Wynantskill, N.Y.)
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