Olympic medalists and World Team Champions Gerek Meinhardt and Race Imboden will both be in action in Salt Lake City. Photo Credit: Augusto Bizzi / #BizziTeam
(Colorado Springs, Colo.) – Olympians, World Champions and hopefuls for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo will come one step closer to competing on the world’s largest stage during the December North American Cup in Salt Lake City this weekend.
The December NAC will feature more than 1,500 competitors fencing in men’s and women’s events for each of the sport’s three disciplines: epee, foil and saber. The tournament will serve as a key qualifier for the Tokyo Olympic Games with athletes in the Division I events competing for Olympic qualifying points towards the team that will be named in April. The NAC also includes team competitions and events for athletes ages 40-80+ as well as Division II events.
Competition will be held daily from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. Tickets are $5 per day or $15 for a full-tournament pass and are available at the door or at https://member.usafencing.org/store. USA Fencing members with a supporting membership or higher are admitted free.
The December NAC is the second domestic Olympic qualifying event to be held for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Fencing Team. The men’s and women’s foil and epee squads will be selected at the conclusion of the 2020 USA Fencing Division I National Championships which will be held from April 17-19 in St. Louis. The men’s and women’s saber squads will be chosen after the conclusion of the 2020 FIE Grand Prix Seoul which will take place from April 24-26 in Korea. For each squad, the top three athletes in the USA Fencing National Team Point Standings will qualify for the individual and team events in Tokyo with the fourth athlete in the standings being named as a replacement athlete for the team event only.
A full breakdown of who to watch in the Division I events is as follows:
Friday, Dec. 6
Division I Men’s Foil
Start Time: 8 a.m.
The men’s foil field includes three Olympic medalists as well as one of the weapon’s rising stars battling for the top position on the podium in the final competition before the U.S. Men’s Foil Team travels to Tokyo for the Olympic test event next week. Rio Olympic team bronze medalists Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.), Race Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y) and Miles Chamley-Watson (New York City, N.Y.) are each aiming to return for a third straight Games together while 2018 Junior World Champion Nick Itkin (Los Angeles, N.Y.) is seeking to earn a berth to his first Olympic Games. Although each of these fencers have won medals on the World Cup circuit and could be Olympic medal hopefuls in his own right, a field size of 125 fencers means they could meet in any round as Meinhardt and Chamley-Watson did in the quarter-finals at the October NAC in Kansas City with Chamley-Watson taking the win. It would be Itkin who earned the October NAC title, however, with wins over Chamley-Watson and two-time Olympic medalist Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.) – the latter of whom will not be competing in Salt Lake. After a silver medal finish at the Shanghai Grand Prix last season and a top-32 at Worlds, it’s 20-year-old Itkin who holds the most Olympic qualifying points – a position he hopes to retain at the conclusion of the weekend. Imboden, who trains in Europe currently, was not at the October NAC and wants nothing short of gold. Itkin has bested Imboden previously on the NAC circuit, but Imboden won their last bout at the Paris World Cup in January and is now ranked No. 2 in the world. Imboden also defeated Meinhardt at the Pan American Championships in June and Chamley-Watson, 15-12, at the 2018 Absolute Fencing Gear® FIE Grand Prix Anaheim. Itkin, Meinhardt, Massialas and Imboden lead the Olympic Qualification Points with Chamley-Watson sitting in fifth, but, with as many as 1,100 points on the line in Salt Lake City, a gold medal could change the landscape greatly.
Saturday, Dec. 7
Division I Women’s Foil
Start Time: 8 a.m.
Olympians and 2018 World Team Champions Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky.), Nicole Ross (New York City, N.Y.) and Nzingha Prescod (Brooklyn, N.Y.) have made up the core of the four-person National Team every year since 2010 and are each scheduled to compete in Salt Lake in an attempt to qualify for another team together. Although Kiefer had not fenced on the NAC circuit since 2015, the two-time Olympian earned her seventh Division I title in Kansas City and is the front-runner for an eighth this weekend. A 2012 Olympian, Ross lost to 2018 Junior World Team Champion Sylvie Binder (Armonk, N.Y.) in the table of 16 at the October NAC, but won gold at the last two national events in which she competed and has earned gold, silver or bronze in six of her previous seven national events. Prescod, who fenced at both the 2012 and 2016 Games, has struggled with injuries during the last two seasons and did not compete in October after winning bronze in the team event with Kiefer, Ross and Jackie Dubrovich (Riverdale, N.J.) at the Senior Worlds in July. Seeded third, Dubrovich fenced at her first Senior World Championships this year and won bronze behind Kiefer at the October NAC. Dubrovich and Prescod fenced in the preliminary rounds at the Cairo World Cup last month with Dubrovich taking the win over Prescod who is now ranked seventh in Olympic qualifying points. Iman Blow (Brooklyn, N.Y.), a 2017 Junior World medalist, is ranked No. 4 in the nation with a pair of two top-32 results on the World Cup circuit and the 2019 July Challenge title to her credit.
Division I Women’s Epee
Start Time: 8 a.m.
Courtney and Kelley Hurley (San Antonio, Texas) have been through it all with the sisters winning bronze together at the 2012 Olympic Games, missing the medal rounds by one touch in 2016 and earning gold in the team event at the 2018 Senior Worlds. The Hurleys are now attempting to qualify for a third Olympic Team together (and fourth for Kelley) and they are currently the top two fencers in the nation. Less than 100 Olympic qualifying points separates a trio of hopefuls for Tokyo with 2019 Senior World Team member Kasia Nixon (Los Angeles, Calif.), two-time Senior World Team member Anna van Brummen (Houston, Texas) and 2018 Senior World Team Champion Kat Holmes (Washington, D.C.) – all of whom will be competing in Salt Lake with Holmes aiming to return for a second Olympic Games. Former NCAA Champion Isis Washington (East Orange, N.J.) defeated Courtney Hurley, 15-13, in the gold medal final to win gold at the October NAC of the season and move up to No. 6 in Olympic qualifying points.
Sunday, Dec. 8
Division I Men’s Epee
Start Time: 8 a.m.
The U.S. Men’s Epee Team in Tokyo is nearly guaranteed to include several first-time Olympians with only two past team members currently training for Tokyo. Two-time Olympian Soren Thompson (New York City, N.Y.) and Rio Olympian Jason Pryor (South Euclid, Ohio) are each seeded in the top 20 with Thompson attempting to return to the Games for the first time since 2012. Cuban-born Yeisser Ramirez (Brooklyn, N.Y.) won gold at the October NAC and placed in the top 32 at the Berne World Cup last month to climb to the top of the Olympic qualification standings as he seeks to qualify to represent the United States on the national team for the first time since the 2015 Senior Worlds. Although two-time Senior World Team member Jake Hoyle (New York City, N.Y.) won two medals on the World Cup circuit last season, he missed earning qualifying points at the October NAC after a loss in the 64. Now Hoyle sits behind Ramirez at No. 2 in Olympic qualifying points based on international results at the last three tournaments on the circuit, including a top-32 at the Paris World Cup. Thompson’s silver medal at the October NAC puts him third in Olympic qualifying points, followed by 2012 Senior World Team Champion Ben Bratton (New York City, N.Y.) and Dwight Smith (Elmont, N.Y.) who each won bronze at the October NAC. Three members of the 2019 Senior World Team are separated by fewer than 200 points with James Kaull (New York City, N.Y.), Curtis McDowald (Jamaica, N.Y.) and Adam Rodney (New Orleans, La.) all aiming to make a jump in the standings after the December NAC.
Division I Women’s Saber
Start Time: 1 p.m.
Two-time Olympic Champion Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore.) has not lost a direct elimination bout at a national event in more than a decade and comes into this tournament as the two-time reigning Division I National Champion who won gold at the October NAC to start the new season. Zagunis was challenged this summer, however, by teammate Eliza Stone (Chicago, Ill.) who defeated Zagunis in the gold medal final at the Pan American Championships and in the table of 16 at the Senior Worlds. Stone, who won bronze at the 2018 Senior Worlds and is ranked No. 1 in the nation, is seeking to qualify for her first Olympic Team after falling just short of making the 2016 squad. Kamali Thompson (Teaneck, N.J.) fenced on her first Senior World Team this summer and is taking a year off her medical residency to train full-time for Tokyo. Thompson has picked up international points at her last three World Cups and sits third in Olympic points, just edging 2016 Olympic team bronze medalist Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J.) who has been out with injuries since June and will not compete at the NAC. In addition to Zagunis and Wozniak, two other Olympic medalists will be in the field in eighth seed Monica Aksamit (Matawan, N.J.) and 10th seed Sada Jacobson (Atlanta, Ga.) Aksamit won team bronze in Rio with Jacobson earning individual bronze in 2004 and silver in 2008 as well as team bronze in 2008.
Monday, Dec. 9
Division I Men’s Saber
Start Time: 8 a.m.
Rio Olympic silver medalist Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y.) has won gold or silver at seven of his last eight national tournaments, dating back to 2015. In October, Homer dropped his final bout to Egyptian Ziad Elsissy to open the domestic portion of the Olympic qualification period with a silver medal. Both Homer and Elsissy are scheduled to compete in Salt Lake City with Homer seeded first and Elsissy third. Going into the NAC, Homer is poised for a third straight Olympic Team, sitting second in qualification points behind his Rio teammate, Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn, Mass.) who will not be fencing the NAC. Nearly all of the remaining U.S. contenders will be competing in Salt Lake, though, including two-time Senior World Team member Andrew Mackiewicz (Westwood, Mass.) who climbed to No. 3 in Olympic qualification points after a top-32 finish at the Cairo World Cup last month. Two members of the 2019 Senior World Team will be ones to watch as well, including London Olympian Jeff Spear (Wynantskill, N.Y.) who is fencing full-time this season after taking a year off from his doctoral program at NYU and Khalil Thompson (Teaneck, N.J.) who won silver or bronze at the first three tournaments of the NACs during the 2018-19 season.
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