The women's foil team, from left: Jackie Dubrovich, Maia Weintraub, Zander Rhodes and Lee Kiefer. (Photo by #BizziTeam)
CAIRO — Take the excitement of the final three-minute round of a fencing bout and multiply it by nine.
That's the promise of fencing's team competition, where squads representing their home countries (or, in the case of USA Fencing tournaments, their home clubs) square off across nine rounds of high-energy excitement.
Three athletes per country (plus a fourth who can be subbed in) take turns stepping onto the strip. It's the ultimate way to compare the skills of two countries because — assuming there are no subs — everyone fences everyone.
At the 2022 Fencing World Championships on Thursday in Egypt, you could feel the energy even at the relatively early start time: 10 a.m. local. That's when Team USA's women's epee and women's foil teams made their way onto the strips inside the Main Hall at the Cairo Stadium Indoor Halls Complex.
The two squads fenced on either side of a giant, ornately decorated wall that divides the stadium in two — four strips on one side and five (including the podium strip) on the other.
On the green-colored Strip 7, the women's foil team of Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky.), Jackie Dubrovich (Maplewood, N.J.), Maia Weintraub (Philadelphia, Pa.) and Zander Rhodes (South Orange, N.J.) faced a round of 16 match against Ukraine.
About 50 feet away, on the yellow strip, the women's epee team of Kat Holmes (Washington, D.C.), Margherita Guzzi Vincenti (Hartland, Wis.), Anna van Brummen (Goleta, Calif.) and Isis Washington (Parsippany, N.J.) fencing in a quarterfinal bout against Poland.
The turning point in the women's foil match came in the sixth round, which Team USA entered ahead by a slim margin: 16-13.
That's when Kiefer, who earned bronze in the women’s foil individual event two days earlier, lowered her mask and stepped up to the en-garde line.
Over the next three minutes, Kiefer outscored Kateryna Chentsova 13 touches to four. That huge number for Kiefer extended Team USA's lead to 29-17 and effectively put the match out of reach.
Kiefer's high-scoring round underlines one of the compelling quirks of scoring in the team event: such a big number by Kiefer would not have been possible in earlier rounds.
Here's a quick overview for those who might be new to fencing in general or the team event specifically.
There are two ways that each of the nine rounds can end:
A bout will always end in the ninth round — either at the end of three minutes or when one team reaches 45 points, whichever occurs first.
A typical first round might end with Team A leading Team B, 5-3.
The target score in the second round is 10, giving Team B a shot at an instant comeback. In one extreme scenario, Team B's athlete could score seven touches in a row and lead 10-5 after two rounds. Then Team A could retake the lead with its athlete scoring 10 touches in a row to lead 15-10. And so on.
Thursday's bout between Team USA and Ukraine began a little differently. After one round, Team USA led 3-1 when time expired. But the next round's target score was still 10. And Kiefer took full advantage, outscoring her opponent, Olga Sopit, 7-1 to push the U.S. ahead 10-2.
Rounds 3, 4 and 5 were lower scoring, which gave Kiefer a shot at another big number in Round 6.
Remember, even though Round 6 started with a score of 16-13, it would only end when three minutes expired or someone reached that round's target score of 30 — whichever happened first.
Kiefer kept scoring point after point and almost hit that 30 number, falling one touch short when time ran out and Team USA led 29-17.
The bout ended with Team USA securing a 45-22 victory and a spot in the quarterfinals. (See time and viewing details below.)
Another example of the fascinating scoring in the team event happened in women's epee. Team USA entered the ninth round of its quarterfinals match against Poland trailing 25-19. Even given that relatively low score, the match would only end when the three minutes expired or one team reached 45.
Holmes and Martyna Swatowska-Wenglarczyk delivered an entertaining final round, with Holmes outscoring Swatowska-Wenglarczyk by a score of 16-15. Yes, the athletes combined for 31 touches in just three minutes.
Unfortunately, it was not quite enough as Team USA lost the bout, 40-35, sending Team USA into a separate, four-team bracket to determine 5th through 8th places.
Determined to end their tournament on a high note, Team USA won both of its matches in that mini-tournament, beating both Hong Kong, China, and Switzerland to finish an impressive fifth.
In men's epee, the team of Curtis McDowald (Jamaica, N.Y.), Justin Yoo (Long Island City, N.Y.), Yeisser Ramirez (Flushing, N.Y.) and Cooper Schumacher (Forest Hills, N.Y.) lost in the round of 32 to finish 17th.
Day 8 brings us a trio of team events for Team USA. That includes:
Men's Foil (until the quarterfinals)
First bout: Round of 32 against India, 4 a.m. EDT
Viewing details: Not streamed online until round of 16
Team: Nick Itkin (Los Angeles, Calif.), Chase Emmer (Morristown, N.J.), Gerek Meinhardt (Lexington, Ky.) and Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.)
Women's Foil (quarterfinals and on)