Rio Olympic team bronze medalist Dagmara Wozniak will fence for the first time in the new season in Charlotte. Photo Credit: #BizziTeam
(Colorado Springs, Colo.) – With just over 200 days remaining before the 2020 Olympic Games begin in Tokyo, more than 1,600 athletes will compete at the January North American Cup at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, N.C. this weekend.
Athletes will fence in four categories (Division I, Junior, Senior Team and Parafencing) with qualification points on the line for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Fencing Team.
Among the weekend’s competitors are more than 50 athletes from throughout North Carolina, representing 11 clubs.
The tournament also will serve as a qualifier for the 2020 Junior and Cadet World Championships. While the NAC is not a qualifier for the 2020 Paralympic Games, several candidates for Tokyo will compete in Charlotte, including Ellen Geddes (Johnston, S.C.) and Shelby Jensen (Salt Lake City, Utah) who are each ranked among the top 25 in the world.
Competition will be held from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. daily. Tickets are available for $5 per day or $15 for a four-day pass. Individuals with a USA Fencing supporting membership or higher are admitted free. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online at https://member.usafencing.org/store.
Olympic medalists scheduled to compete in Charlotte include:
The January NAC is the third of four domestic qualifying events for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team. The top three athletes in the USA Fencing National Team Point Standings at the end of the qualification period in April will earn positions in both the individual and team events with the fourth athlete qualifying as a replacement athlete for the team event only. For epee and foil fencers, the qualification period ends at the conclusion of the USA Fencing Division I National Championships in St. Louis on April 19. Saber qualification will end following the FIE Grand Prix Seoul in Korea on April 25.
A full preview of the Division I events is as follows:
Friday, Jan. 3
Division I Men’s Epee
After a gold medal win at the October NAC and a top-32 result at the first World Cup of the year in Berne, Switzerland, Yeisser Ramirez (Brooklyn, N.Y.) has established himself as a front-runner for the men’s epee squad in Tokyo, leading the field in Olympic qualification points. Ramirez lost a surprise quarter-final at the December NAC to 2019 Cadet World Team member Nick Lawson (New York City, N.Y.), but is expected to be a podium contender in Charlotte. A two-time medalist on the World Cup circuit last season, Jake Hoyle (New York City, N.Y.) is second in Olympic qualifying points and has a point bucket to fill this weekend after a loss in the table of 64 at the October NAC. The only American to currently be ranked among the top 16 in the world, Hoyle placed second in December behind 38-year-old Soren Thompson (New York City, N.Y.), a 2004 and 2012 Olympian who is aiming to represent Team USA for a third time. Thompson has not competed in an international Olympic qualifier during this for Tokyo and will return to the circuit when Team USA competes in Heidenheim, Germany next weekend. A two-time Senior World team member and bronze medalist on the World Cup circuit last year, Curtis McDowald (Jamaica, N.Y.) is looking for a big result in Charlotte to jump past Thompson in Olympic qualifying points. In addition to qualifying points, for some athletes in this field, the NAC could be their gateway back onto the World Cup circuit. Both 2016 Olympian Jason Pryor (South Euclid, Ohio) and 2012 Senior World Team Champion Ben Bratton (New York City, N.Y.) have found themselves sitting outside the top 12 U.S. rankings which makes them unable to compete in Heidenheim, but looking to jump back into the mix for the remainder of the season
Division I Women’s Foil
The women’s foil field in Charlotte will be wide open with none of the four fencers who won bronze at the 2019 Senior World Championships competing this weekend. With the top three fencers in the National Team Point Standings out of the picture, there is plenty of room for movement in the standings, but number crunchers can expect the Strength Factor to take a hit. Four-time Junior World medalist Iman Blow (Brooklyn, N.Y.) is the highest ranked fencer in the competition, coming in at No. 4 in the Team Point Standings. The 2018 NCAA Champion for Columbia is eyeing the chance to qualify for her first Olympic Team, but 2016 Junior World Champion Sabrina Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.) made a huge jump to No. 5 in the standings, sitting less than 50 points behind Blow. A four-time All-American for Notre Dame, Massialas has battled injuries during the last two seasons, but came up big at the St. Maur World Cup where she finished 13th. Southern California native Nicole Pustilnik is representing Israel, but a silver medal in October and a pair of top-eights at the July Challenge and December NAC make the junior fencer a prime candidate to play the role of spoiler for those looking to earn Olympic points in Charlotte. The 2020 Olympic Team could include any number of young faces, including 2019 Junior and Cadet World Team Champion Lauren Scruggs (Ozone Park, N.Y.) who is sixth behind Massialas in the National Team Point Standings and won both the Division I and Junior titles at the 2019 January NAC. May Tieu (Belle Mead, N.J.), a 2018 Cadet World silver medalist, sits less than 100 points back from Scruggs at seventh in the National Team Point Standings with both young fencers earning top-32 results at the Cairo World Cup in November.
Saturday, Jan. 4
Division I Men’s Foil
All five of the top candidates for the 2020 Olympic Team are scheduled to fence in Charlotte amid 300+ fellow competitors. Between them, 2016 Olympic team bronze medalists Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.), Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.), Race Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Miles Chamley-Watson (New York City, N.Y.) hold 20 Senior World medals and dozens of podium finishes on the World Cup circuit. It is 20-year-old Nick Itkin (Los Angeles, Calif.), however, who holds the No. 1 position in the USA Fencing National Team Point Standings after a qualifying season that included a silver medal at the Shanghai Grand Prix and a top-eight result at the Tokyo World Cup. Itkin defeated both Massialas and Chamley-Watson en route to winning gold at the October NAC, but Meinhardt won the title in December, defeating Itkin in the finals. Imboden sat out the first two domestic events of the season and is seeking to pick up a stack of points in Charlotte to move up from No. 4 in the Team Point Standings where he sits behind Itkin, Massialas and Meinhardt. With silver and bronze medal finishes at the first two NACs of the season, Chamley-Watson has nearly maxed out his domestic points, but early eliminations on the first day of the first two World Cups of the season mean Chamley-Watson will be on the hunt for gold to bolster his position in the standings.
Division I Women’s Epee
With two returning members of the 2016 Olympic Team competing in Charlotte, the women’s epee event may be the competition with the most potential to impact qualification for Tokyo. Top-ranked Courtney Hurley (San Antonio, Texas) is opting to sit this one out after a silver medal finish in October and a silver on the World Cup circuit, but Rio Olympians Kelley Hurley (San Antonio, Texas) and Kat Holmes (Washington, D.C.) are looking to fill gaps after top-16 NAC finishes in the fall. Sitting second in Olympic qualification points behind younger sister Courtney, Kelley is aiming for a medal to broaden her gap on the field while Holmes is in third and looking to put some distance between herself and the a trio of fencers who are just a few hundred points back in fourth, fifth and sixth. A 2019 Senior World Team member, Kasia Nixon (Los Angeles, Calif.) earned a top-32 on the circuit and a pair of NAC eights, but has yet to reach the final rounds while Isis Washington (East Orange, N.J.) and two-time Senior World Team member Anna van Brummen (Houston, Texas) earned gold and bronze at the October NAC, respectively.
Sunday, Jan. 5
Division I Men’s Saber
With no Olympians in the field and both of the gold medalists at the first two NACs out of the lineups, an event that has seen surprises all season could continue that streak in Charlotte. Two-time Senior World Team member Andrew Mackiewicz (Westwood, Mass.) is third in Olympic qualifying points behind Rio Olympians Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn, Mass.) and Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y.) and is looking to put distance between himself and 2019 Senior World Team member Khalil Thompson (Teaneck, N.J.) Both Mackiewicz, a two-time NCAA Champion for Penn State, and Thompson earned bronze medals at the NACs this season and are considered contenders for gold. The No. 5, 6 and 7 fencers in the Olympic qualifying points will all be in Charlotte and have each made top-four finishes in 2019. Grant Williams (Atlanta, Ga.), a 2017 Junior World Team member, earned bronze in October while 2019 Junior World bronze medalist Mitchell Saron (Ridgewood, N.J.) comes in as the reigning Division I National Champion and 2018 Junior World team bronze medalist Andrew Doddo (South Orange, N.J.) took silver behind Homer in December.
Monday, Jan. 6
Division I Women’s Saber
The fencer to watch on the final day of competition will be 2016 Olympic team bronze medalist Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J.) who is returning to competition for the first time since withdrawing from the Pan American Championships in June with an injury. Despite her absence from the circuit, Wozniak remains No. 5 in the National Team Point Standings after a pair of top-32 results in May and is seeking to make up for lost time after missing the first two World Cups and NACs of the season in the fall. Her teammate on the 2012 and 2016 squads, two-time Olympic Champion Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore.) won the first two NACs of the season and has virtually maxed out her Group 1 NAC points, but may appear in Charlotte at the third NAC of the season to continue an undefeated streak on the domestic circuit that dates back to 2014. Hampered by injuries in the fall, 2018 Senior World bronze medalist Eliza Stone (Chicago, Ill.) is the top seed and No. 1 fencer in the National Team Point standings, followed by Zagunis in the No. 2 position. Kamali Thompson (Teaneck, N.J.), a member of the 2019 Senior World Team, sits in third after a bronze medal at the December NAC and is trailed by fourth-ranked Nora Burke (New York City, N.Y.) – a 2019 Junior World Team member who saw big points this fall with a silver medal at the October NAC and a top-32 finish at the Absolute Fencing Gear® Women’s Sabre World Cup. Rio Olympic team bronze medalist Monica Aksamit (Matawan, N.J.) faltered at the October NAC, finishing in the top 64, but rebounded with a bronze in December. A shaky 2019 means that Aksamit is out of the top 12 and is waitlisted for Montreal Grand Prix next week. Points in Charlotte will be crucial in order to make a return to the international circuit as Olympic qualification heats up.
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