(Tokyo) – With just over 200 days remaining until the 2020 Olympic Games begin in Tokyo, the U.S. Men’s Foil Team won its 13th straight World Cup medal with a silver at the Olympic Test Event in Tokyo on Sunday.
The medal would be the 20th straight overall international podium finish for the Americans, including three straight Senior World Championship medals and gold at the 2019 Senior Worlds.
The three-day Olympic Test event was held in at Makuhari Messe – a convention center that also will host taekwondo, karate and wrestling at the Games. The Tokyo World Cup served as an Olympic qualifier for both individual and team events. Although the U.S. Men’s Foil Team secured its position in Tokyo with a gold medal win at the Bonn World Cup last month, the four positions on Team USA will not be solidified until April 2020.
“It’s awesome to get a first sneak peek to how the venue’s gonna be at the Olympics. We were fortunate enough to be able to compete at the London test event which was a really cool experience and for this to be not only a test event, but a World Cup for us gave it a little bit of a double meaning,” said two-time Olympic medalist Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.) “The competition was run really well. They have fantastic volunteers, fantastic organizers and I have no doubt that, by the time the Olympics come around, they will have everything in tip top shape.”
Massialas anchored Team USA to a 3-1 record on the day, fencing in the team competition with his 2016 Olympic bronze medalist teammates Race Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.) as well as 2019 Senior World team member Nick Itkin (Los Angeles, Calif.)
After a bye into the table of 16, the No. 1 team in the world made quick work of its match against Australia, earning a 45-16 win with Meinhardt (+13), Itkin (+10) and Massialas (+6) each posting positive indicators as the Americans won eight of nine bouts.
Team USA dominated the quarter-finals as well, defeating China, 45-22, with nine bout wins. Itkin posted a double digit indicator at +10 for the second time of the day with Meinhardt earning +8 and Massialas +6.
In the semifinals, however, Team USA would be tested by Russia, the 2016 Olympic Champions, in a rematch of the 2019 Senior World semis. After the first four bouts, Russia pulled away with a 20-14 lead, but Itkin cut the deficit to four, scoring four straight to close his bout against 2014 Senior World Champion Alexey Cheremisinov at 4-2.
With Russia leading at 22-18, Massialas came up against Timur Safin who stood on the Rio podium with an individual bronze next to Massialas who won silver. Massialas whipped off five straight to take a 23-22 lead just over a minute into the bout and closed with a 12-3 victory to give Team USA a 30-25 lead with three bouts remaining.
“I have the ultimate trust in my teammates. They put me in the position to be able to make that comeback,” Massialas said. “They were telling Nick [in the bout before] ‘take your time, pick your spots, you don’t need to force things. Let Alex do his thing if he can, but if you can pick your spots, go ahead and do that’ and that’s exactly what he did. He won that bout, 4-2, and he gave me a lot of wiggle room to work my actions and put the point on and that, again, is why I love our team. No one feels like they have to be the hero and, as long as we fence to our game plan and adapt when a wrench is thrown into it, I have the utmost confidence that we can always pull out the match no matter what the odds.”
In the seventh bout, Itkin defeated Kirill Borodachev, 5-3, and Meinhardt bested 2017 Senior World Champion Dmitry Zherebchenko, 5-2, before Massialas closed against Cheremisinov at 5-4 to clinch the match, 45-34.
“Throughout the whole day, we had to fight through adversity to get there and I think the team is doing a really good job of fighting through adversity, going down against Russia in the beginning and then clawing our way back and then finishing really strong and emphatically,” Massialas said. “Once we got the lead again, not letting them come close to taking it back shows a lot of our character.”
The finals would pit Team USA against France – the team the Americans defeated at the 2019 Senior Worlds to win gold.
All four Americans fenced in the match, but France won or tied seven of the first eight bouts to take a 40-29 lead. Massialas put up 10 against Erwann Le Pechoux in the anchor bout, but France took the win, 45-39.
“Obviously we want to come out with gold, but it just wasn’t in the cards today. The French team fenced extremely strong and, even though we had bouts that we fenced strong as well, there were also bouts that we wish we could have taken back as well,” Massialas said. “The last two events we’ve fenced with different lineups to keep people healthy and see how things will go and I think we’ve shown success no matter who goes out there and I think that’s one thing I really really makes me proud of this team is that all of us know we can go out there and compete and do really well.”
In the individual event, Massialas and Itkin each earned top-eight results, placing sixth and eighth respectively with Massialas climbing from No. 3 to No. 2 in the USA Fencing National Team Point Standings behind Itkin who remains No. 1 in his bid to qualify for his first U.S. Olympic Team. Meinhardt moves to third in the standings with Imboden in fourth. Miles Chamley-Watson (New York City, N.Y.), a two-time Senior World Champion and member of the team that won bronze at the 2016 Olympic Games, sits in fifth following elimination in the preliminary rounds both in Tokyo and at the Bonn World Cup last month.
Both Massialas and Itkin were exempt from the pool rounds due to their top-16 world rankings and Massialas opened with a trio of wins against Asian fencers to earn his position in the top eight.
In the table of 64, Massialas jumped out to a 9-1 lead over 2019 Asian championships silver medalist Bin Wu (CHN) in the first two minutes. Wu scored five to finish the period, cutting Massialas’ lead to 9-6, but the American ended strong at 15-8 in the second.
The table of 32 pitted Massialas against 2016 Junior World bronze medalist Kyosuke Matsuyama (JPN) in front of Matsuyama’s home crowd. Massialas controlled the first period at 9-3 and ended with a 15-8 victory, including a point scored off a red card by Matsuyama.
The table of 16 began slowly with 2015 Junior World bronze medalist Mengkai Huang (CHN) getting handed the tournament’s first P card when the bout went a minute without either athlete scoring. With Massialas up, 2-1, it was Huang who received the card. Massialas ended the first period with a 4-2 lead and scored four straight to push the score to 8-2 at the start of the second. Massialas went on to close with five straight touches and a 15-5 win.
Seeded 11th, Itkin opened with a cautious first period against 2016 Junior World team silver medalist Alessandro Gridelli (ITA), holding a 5-3 lead after the first period. In the second, however, Gridelli scored first before Itkin reeled off 10 straight to take the bout, 15-4.
In the table of 32, Itkin pulled away from a tie at eight against 2019 Pan Am Games bronze medalist Max Van Haaster (CAN) to take bout, 15-9, with a 7-1 run to close.
Itkin drew 2016 Olympic Team silver medalist Jeremy Cadot (FRA) in the 16 and held a 12-10 lead before Cadot rebounded with four straight touches. As the clock wore down on the first period, Itkin picked off the two he needed to tie the bout at 14 with 12 seconds remaining in the period. After the one-minute break and a consult with his coach and father, Michael Itkin (Los Angeles, Calif.), Itkin scored first and claimed the bout at 15-14.
With both Massialas and Itkin in the quarter-finals, Team USA found itself two wins away from a double podium finish in Tokyo. But first, Massialas would need to get through Maxime Pauty (FRA) – a 2019 Senior World Team silver medalist who upset World No. 2 Imboden, 15-12, in the 16.
Massialas held an 11-8 lead going into the final minute before Pauty began a series of attacks straight off the line that resulted in five straight touches in less than 10 seconds to take a 13-11 lead over the two-time Olympian. In the next five seconds, Massialas scored just once more as Pauty ended the bout with a 15-14 win before going on to earn his second career individual World Cup medal with a silver.
Itkin would fence 2016 Olympic Champion Daniele Garozzo (ITA) for the third time in his career after earning wins over the World No. 4 at the 2017 and 2018 Bonn World Cups. Itkin opened with a 4-0 lead in the first 30 seconds and held a three-touch lead at 7-4 before Garozzo scored three straight to tie the bout. Up 11-10 in the final minute, Garozzo took a medical timeout before returning with four straight to win the bout, 15-10, and end with a bronze medal on the day.
Imboden finished ninth overall after a 15-12 loss to Pauty in the table of 16. Ranked No. 2 in the world, Imboden defeated Daniel Giacon (NED), 15-10, in the table of 64 and Daiki Fujino (JPN), 15-11, in the 32.
Eighteen-year-old Marcello Olivares (Cooper City, Fla.) earned his first top-32 result on the senior circuit in Tokyo.
The 2018 Cadet World silver medalist went 5-1 in pools on Friday and defeated Kohei Sugawara (JPN), 15-8, and Roger Wallerand (FRA), 15-9, to qualify for the table of 64 where he took a 7-6 lead against Minseo Choi (KOR) after the first and pulled away from a tie at 13 to win the bout, 15-13, in the second.
In the table of 32, Olivares fenced World No. 1 Alessio Foconi (ITA) and kept the score close with a tie at seven before Foconi scored five straight and eight of the next 10 touches to win the bout, 15-9.
Sixteen-year-old James Chen (New York City, N.Y.) entered his first ever Senior World Cup in Tokyo and made a lasting first impression as the 2019 Cadet World Team member earned a top-64 finish and challenged 2018 Senior World silver medalist Richard Kruse (GBR) in the process.
Chen finished 5-1 in the pool rounds on Friday and advanced directly to the table of 64. Chen led Kruse, 7-4, during the second period, but Kruse came back in the third to tie the bout at eight and close at 15-10.
Meinhardt was eliminated in the table of 64, falling to Max Chastanet (FRA) who ended the bout with a 7-1 run to defeat Meinhardt, 15-10.
With four international events, two North American Cups and the 2019 Senior World Championships in the books for individual Olympic qualification, there are still four international events as well as two NACs on the table for athletes to secure berths onto Team USA. The top three men’s foil fencers in the USA Fencing National Team Point Standings at the conclusion of the 2020 Division I National Championships on April 19 in St. Louis will be nominated to the U.S. Olympic Team in both individual and team events with the four athlete qualifying as a replacement athlete for the team competition only.
“I think all of us are fencing well. People have had medals, people have had top eights. The thing about men’s foil is it’s such a deep field, not only in the world, but in the U.S. in particular. You got me, Gerek, Nick, Race and Miles, even Adam [Mathieu] and you’ve got Marcello making the 32,” Massialas said. “People are in contention and I think the competition has helped, at least me, want to be the best myself. I want to go out and compete as well as I can every single day and, when people are doing better, it pushes me to be better every single day too.”
Top eight and U.S. results are as follows:
Tokyo Men’s Team Foil World Cup
6. Hong Kong
Tokyo Men’s Individual Foil World Cup
1. Alessio Foconi (ITA)
2. Maxime Pauty (FRA)
3. Alexey Cheremisinov (RUS)
3. Daniele Garozzo (ITA)
5. Enzo Lefort (FRA)
6. Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.)
7. Andrea Cassara (ITA)
8. Nick Itkin (Los Angeles, Calif.)
22T. Marcello Olivares (Cooper City, Fla.)
33. Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.)
45T. James Chen (New York City, N.Y.)
74. Miles Chamley-Watson (New York City, N.Y.)
89T. Brian Kaneshige (Maplewood, N.J.)
92. Adam Mathieu (Union City, N.J.)
94. Ethan Gassner (San Francisco, Calif.)
155T. Sam Moelis (Hewlett, N.Y.)
190T. Siddarth Kumbla (San Jose, Calif.)
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