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Twenty U.S. Olympic Fencing Storylines for Tokyo 2020

07/22/2021, 7:00am CDT
By Kristen Henneman and Nicole Jomantas

Eli Dershwitz enters his second Olympic Games ranked No. 2 in the world. Photo Credit: #BizziTeam.

(Colorado Springs, Colo.) – The U.S. Olympic Fencing Team is prepared for competition to begin at the Tokyo Olympic Games with fencing action running from July 24 – Aug. 1 at Makuhari Messe Hall B – the Olympic venue just outside of the city in Chiba.

With a full team of 18 individual athletes and six replacement team members, the U.S. Olympic Fencing Team boasts eight returning Olympic medalists among the six squads.

As the countdown to the Games continues, here are 20 storylines to watch as the Games begin:

Gender Parity in Tokyo


Women's team foil will return to the Olympic Games for the first time since 2012 after being rotated out in 2016.

The Tokyo Games mark the first time all six team events will be held at the same Games. With all six U.S. squads qualified (men’s and women’s epee, foil and saber), the United States’ potential medal total is higher than ever before. This also will mark the first Games in which women will compete in all three team events at the same Games, creating gender parity across the weapons.

Seven in Top 10


World No. 2 Eli Dershwitz will compete in his second Games in Rio. Photo Credit: #BizziTeam.

Seven U.S. fencers rank in the top 10 in the world rankings in their respective weapons, led by 2016 Olympic team bronze medalist Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif. / Massialas Foundation / Notre Dame) and 2018 Senior World silver medalist Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn, Mass. / Zeta Fencing Academy / Harvard), who rank No. 2 in the world in men’s foil and men’s saber, respectively.

Other top-10 fencers include Meinhardt’s men’s foil teammates Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif. / Massialas Foundation / Stanford) and Nick Itkin (Los Angeles, Calif. / Los Angeles International Fencing Center / Notre Dame) who are ranked No. 5 and No. 9, respectively. Team replacement athlete Race Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y.) is the replacement athlete for the squad and comes in at No. 4 in the world.

Women’s foil fencer Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky. / Bluegrass Fencers’ Club / Notre Dame) holds the No. 5 position in the women’s foil standings while first-time team member Eliza Stone (Chicago, Ill. / Bergen Fencing Center / Princeton) and two-time Olympic Champion Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore. / Oregon Fencing Alliance / Notre Dame) are ranked No. 6 and 9, in women’s saber.

On the Biggest Stage


Two-time Olympic Champion Mariel Zagunis.

Team USA will be composed of eight Olympic medalists who have brought home a total of 12 pieces of hardware, led by Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore. / Oregon Fencing Alliance / Notre Dame) who has four Olympic medals, including two Olympic golds in 2004 and 2008 as well as team bronzes in 2008 and 2016. Her teammate from the 2016 squad, Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J. / Manhattan Fencing Center / Notre Dame) also will be seeking another medal in Tokyo.

Three of the four members of the U.S. Men’s Foil Team that won bronze in Rio will return in Tokyo, including Massialas, Meinhardt and Imboden. Massialas, as well as men’s saber fencer Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y. / Peter Westbrook Foundation / St. John’s) also won individual silver medals in 2016.

Women’s epee sisters Kelley and Courtney Hurley (San Antonio, Texas / New York Athletic Club / Notre Dame) won team bronze in 2012 and will be back for a third straight Games together and a fourth for Kelley. 

Docs in the House


Lee Kiefer will conclude finished her first two years of med school during the leadup to Tokyo.

Of the 18 individual fencers competing in Tokyo, three are currently attending medical school with two additional fencers planning on beginning their medical careers after the Games. Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky. / Bluegrass Fencers Club) talked of retiring after she graduated from Notre Dame with four straight NCAA titles, two Olympic berths and a pre-med degree. However, she reached World No. 1 with a gold medal win at the Absolute Fencing Gear® FIE Grand Prix Long Beach in 2017 and chose to enroll at the University of Kentucky in the fall of 2017. Kiefer completed her first two years before taking 2019-20 off to prepare for Tokyo. She completed another semester during the pandemic and has her eyes on residency in 2022.

Kiefer’s husband and 2016 Olympic team bronze medalist, Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif. / Massialas Foundation), earned both his undergrad and MBA at Notre Dame where he won two individual titles and began his first year at the University of Kentucky Medical School in the fall of 2020. London Olympic team bronze medalist Kelley Hurley (San Antonio, Texas / New York Athletic Club / Notre Dame) also began medical school last fall, attending online at the St. James School of Medicine in the Caribbean.

Rio Olympian Kat Holmes (Washington, D.C. / New York Athletic Club / Princeton) received her acceptance during one of what was to be one of the final Olympic qualifying tournaments in 2020, but elected to defer enrolling at Mt. Sinai until the fall of 2021 when the Games were postponed. Eliza Stone (Chicago, Ill. / Bergen Fencing / Princeton) spent the competition hiatus taking the MCATs and applying to medical school with the plan to enroll after competing at her first Olympic Games.

On Top of the World


Mariel Zagunis holds five Senior World medals, including two golds.

Eight members of Team USA head to Tokyo with an individual Senior World medal on their resume, including two fencers each in men’s foil, men’s saber and women’s saber:

  • Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore. / Oregon Fencing Alliance / Notre Dame / Women’s Saber), two-time Senior World Champion and three-time Senior World silver medalist
  • Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif. / Massialas Foundation / Notre Dame / Men’s Foil), 2010 and 2015 Senior World bronze medalist
  • Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn, Mass. / Zeta Fencing Academy / Harvard / Men’s Saber), 2018 Senior World silver medalist
  • Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif. / Massialas Foundation / Stanford / Men’s Foil), 2015 Senior World silver medalist
  • Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y. / Peter Westbrook Foundation / St. John’s / Men’s Saber), 2015 Senior World silver medalist
  • Courtney Hurley (San Antonio, Texas / New York Athletic Club / Notre Dame / Women’s Epee), 2018 Senior World bronze medalist
  • Eliza Stone (Chicago, Ill. / Bergen Fencing Center / Princeton / Women’s Saber), 2018 Senior World bronze medalist
  • Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky. / Bluegrass Fencers’ Club / Notre Dame / Women’s Foil), 2011 Senior World bronze medalist

Men’s Foil Seeking First Olympic Team Title


Race Imboden, NIck Itkin, Alex Massialas and Gerek Meinhardt enter the Games as the No. 1 men's foil team in the world. Photo Credit: #BizziTeam

Entering as the No.1 men’s foil team in the world and the defending World Champions, the U.S. men’s foil team, which will be represented by Meinhardt, Massialas, Itkin and Imboden, won three of the four World Cups in the 2019-20 season prior to the pandemic and is one of the favorites to win gold in Tokyo. No American team has ever won gold at the Olympic Games and the U.S. Men’s Foil Team is aiming to become the first.

Motherhood Motivation


Mariel Zagunis and her daughter Sunday.

Four-time Olympic medalist and two-time Olympic Champion Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore. / Oregon Fencing Alliance / Notre Dame) has a new motivation going into her fifth Olympic Games. For the first time, she will be competing as a mother after her daughter Sunday was born in 2017. Zagunis is one of at least 12 moms across all sports to be representing Team USA in Tokyo.

Hungry for Gold


Alex Massialas won silver in individual and bronze in team in Rio. Photo Credit: #BizziTeam

Two-time Olympic medalist Alex Massialas (San Francisco, Calif. / Massialas Foundation / Stanford) won individual silver in 2016 – becoming the first U.S. foil fencer to win an individual silver medal at the Olympic Games since 1932 – but this time, he has his eye on gold. Ranked No. 5 in the world, Massialas was on a roll prior to the pandemic, winning silver and bronze, and hopes to fulfill his childhood dream of standing on the top step of the podium at a Games in Tokyo, which would make him the first U.S. fencer to win two individual Olympic men’s foil medals.

From Cuba to Team USA


Yeisser Ramirez will fence at his first Olympic Games in Tokyo. Photo Credit: #BizziTeam

First-time Olympic team member Yeisser Ramirez (Brooklyn, N.Y. / Peter Westbrook Foundation) moved to the United States at 21 years old after coming home one day to be told by his father that he had registered Ramirez for the Cuban lottery program as a three-year-old and he had been drawn to receive a visa from the United States. Ramirez, who learned to fence epee barefoot in Guantanamo, had qualified for the Cuban National Team, but chose to come to the United States to pursue his dreams and represented Team USA for the first time at the Senior World Championships in 2015.

Lee Kiefer Knocking on the Door


Four-time World medalist Lee Kiefer is eyeing her first Olympic podium in Tokyo. Photo Credit: #BizziTeam

Ranked No. 5 in the world, Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky. / Bluegrass Fencers Club / Notre Dame) finished fifth in London and 10th in Rio. The 2011 World Championship bronze medalist won three medals on the circuit in the 2019-20 season prior to the pandemic and a podium finish would make her the first women’s foil fencer to win an individual Olympic medal.

Women’s Epee Seeks Podium Return


Anna van Brummen, Kelley Hurley, Kat Holmes and Courtney Hurley won bronze at the final World Cup before the pandemic. Photo Credit: #BizziTeam

Three of the four members of the Women’s Epee Team that won gold at the 2018 World Championships – Kelley Hurley (San Antonio, Texas / New York Athletic Club / Notre Dame), Courtney Hurley (San Antonio, Texas / New York Athletic Club / Notre Dame) and anchor Kat Holmes (Washington, D.C. / New York Athletic Club / Princeton) – will be competing in Tokyo and look to replicate the result.

Saber Silver Medalists Looking for Gold


Rio Olympic silver medalist Daryl Homer. Photo Credit: #BizziTeam.

Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y. / St. John’s / Peter Westbrook Foundation) made history in Rio, becoming the first U.S. men's saber fencer to win an individual silver medal at the Olympic Games since 1904. Ranked No. 17, Homer will look to pencil his name into the history books again and become the first U.S. men's saber fencer to win two individual Olympic medals.

Since Rio, Homer’s teammate, Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn, Mass. / Zeta Fencing Academy / Harvard) has risen up the rankings, ending the 2018 season as the first U.S. men’s saber fencer to win the Overall World Cup title as the No. 1 fencer in the world and the 2018 Senior World silver medalist. After a top-eight finish at the 2019 Senior Worlds, Dershwitz is looking for gold in Tokyo.

Redemption for Eliza


Eliza Stone won bronze at the 2018 Senior Worlds. Photo Credit: #BizziTeam.

After narrowly missing out on qualifying for the 2016 Games, Eliza Stone (Chicago, Ill. / Bergen Fencing Club / Princeton) will compete on the Olympic stage for the first time in Tokyo. Team USA’s highest-ranked women’s saber fencer, the 2018 World bronze medalist ranks No. 6. One of three members of the Stone family to compete at Princeton where the siblings won a national title together in 2013, Stone did not travel on the international circuit for the first time until 2013 when she graduated from Princeton and chose to pursue her Olympic dream.

Women’s Foil Aims to Strike Again


Nicole Ross, Lee Kiefer, Sabrina Massialas and Jackie Dubrovich enter Tokyo with three Senior World team medals to the squad's credit.

Three years ago, the U.S. women’s foil team won its first ever World Championship in the team event. Two of those gold medalists – Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky. / Bluegrass Fencers’ Club / Notre Dame) and Nicole Ross (New York, N.Y. / New York Athletic Club / Columbia) return for the 2021 Olympic Games, and a podium finish would mark the second Olympic Team medal for the squad after a silver medal finish in 2008.

College Walk-On to NCAA Champ to Olympian


Two-time NCAA Champion Jake Hoyle. Photo Credit: #BizziTeam

Jake Hoyle (Philadelphia, Pa. / New York Athletic Club / Columbia) joined the fencing team at Columbia as a walk-on to the squad, but soon made himself an integral part of the Lions’ lineup, winning back-to-back NCAA titles in 2015 and 2016. In 2019, Hoyle won two bronze medals on the World Cup circuit, becoming the first U.S. men’s epee fencer to earn two individual medals in the same season in a decade.

Fencing Couples On and Off the Strip


Lee Kiefer and Gerek Meinhardt married in 2019. Photo Credit: #BizziTeam.

While the partners of most Olympians will watch the Games stateside, several members of the fencing team will have their partners in Tokyo.

After what many dubbed the Royal Fencing Wedding in 2019, one of America’s favorite fencing couples Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif. / Massialas Foundation / Notre Dame) and Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky. / Bluegrass Fencers’ Club / Notre Dame) look for a pair of podium finishes at their first Olympics as a married couple.

First-time team member Jackie Dubrovich (Riverdale, N.J. / Fencers’ Underground / Columbia) will be coached by her fiancé, Brian Kaneshige (Maplewood, N.J. / Fencers’ Underground), a former Junior World Team Champion who proposed in 2019 – nearly 10 years after competing together for the first time as juniors.

Race Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y.) is joined by girlfriend Ysaora Thibus – a member of the French National Team who holds two individual and five Senior World Team medals to her credit.

It’s In Their Blood


Alex, Greg and Sabrina Massialas during a visit to City Hall in San Francisco.

The USA Fencing Team will include two sets of siblings in Tokyo: foil fencers Alex Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.) and Sabrina Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.), as well as epee fencers Kelley Hurley (San Antonio, Texas) and Courtney Hurley (San Antonio, Texas), who won team bronze together in 2012.

Both sets of siblings grew up being coached by their fathers with Greg Massialas (San Francisco, Calif. / Massialas Foundation) serving as head coach of the U.S. Men's Foil Team for nearly a decade and Bob Hurley (San Antonio, Texas) coaching the Hurley sisters for much of their careers. 

Irish Dominance


Nick Itkin won gold at the 2018 and 2019 NCAA Championships.

The University of Notre Dame leads the way with eight athletes who competed for the Irish heading to Tokyo, including seven athletes who won individual NCAA titles during their careers:

  • Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky. / Bluegrass Fencers’ Club), four-time NCAA Champion
  • Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif. / Massialas Foundation), two-time NCAA Champion
  • Francesca Russo (Wayne, N.J. / Bergen Fencing Club), two-time NCAA Champion
  • Nick Itkin (Los Angeles, Calif. / Los Angeles International Fencing Center), two-time NCAA Champion
  • Courtney Hurley (San Antonio, Texas / New York Athletic Club), 2013 NCAA Champion
  • Kelley Hurley (San Antonio, Texas / New York Athletic Club), 2008 NCAA Champion
  • Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore. / Oregon Fencing Alliance), 2006 NCAA Champion

 

Location, Location


Anna van Brummen, Kelley Hurley and Courtney Hurley all hail from Texas. Photo Credit: #BizziTeam.

Fourteen members of the U.S. Olympic Fencing Team hail from or train on the East Coast, including seven from New York. California is home to three of the four men’s foil fencers while three of the four members of the women’s epee squad are from Texas.

Club Support

Athletes couldn’t make it to the Games without the support of their clubs and hometown coaches. Each athlete will have his or her personal coach in the box in Tokyo with athletes on Team USA representing 12 clubs, including:

  • New York Athletic Club (5)
  • Peter Westbrook Foundation (4)
  • Massialas Foundation (3)
  • Bergen Fencing Club (2)
  • Zeta Fencing Academy (2)
  • Alliance Fencing Academy
  • Bluegrass Fencers’ Club
  • Fencers Club
  • Fencers’ Underground
  • Los Angeles International Fencing Center
  • Manhattan Fencing Center
  • Oregon Fencing Alliance

 

U.S. Olympic Fencing Team Roster

Men’s Foil
Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif. / Massialas Foundation / Notre Dame)
Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif. / Massialas Foundation / Stanford)
Nick Itkin (Los Angeles, Calif. / Los Angeles International Fencing Center / Notre Dame)
Replacement Athlete: Race Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Men’s Saber
Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn, Mass. / Zeta Fencing Academy / Harvard)
Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y. / Peter Westbrook Foundation / St. John’s)
Andrew Mackiewicz (Westwood, Mass. / Zeta Fencing Academy / Penn State)
Replacement Athlete: Khalil Thompson (Teaneck, N.J. / Peter Westbrook Foundation / Penn State)

Men’s Epee
Jake Hoyle (Philadelphia, Pa. / New York Athletic Club / Columbia)
Curtis McDowald (Jamaica, N.Y. / Peter Westbrook Foundation / St. John’s)
Yeisser Ramirez (Brooklyn, N.Y. / Peter Westbrook Foundation)
Replacement Athlete: Alen Hadzic (West Orange, N.J. / Fencers Club)

Women’s Foil
Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky. / Bluegrass Fencers’ Club / Notre Dame)
Jackie Dubrovich (Riverdale, N.J. / Fencer’s Underground / Columbia)
Nicole Ross (New York City, N.Y. / New York Athletic Club / Columbia)
Replacement Athlete: Sabrina Massialas (San Francisco, Calif. / Massialas Foundation / Notre Dame)

Women’s Saber
Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore. / Oregon Fencing Alliance / Notre Dame)
Eliza Stone (Chicago, Ill. / Bergen Fencing Club / Princeton)
Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J. / Manhattan Fencing Center / St. John’s)
Replacement Athlete: Francesca Russo (Wayne, N.J. / Bergen Fencing Club / Notre Dame)

Women’s Epee
Courtney Hurley (San Antonio, Texas / New York Athletic Club / Notre Dame)
Kelley Hurley (San Antonio, Texas / New York Athletic Club / Notre Dame)
Kat Holmes (Washington, D.C. / New York Athletic Club / Princeton)
Replacement Athlete: Anna van Brummen (Houston, Texas / Alliance Fencing Academy / Princeton)

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