SANTIAGO, Chile — While Olympic fencing qualification isn’t on the line at the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, these are far from practice matches for Team USA.
These athletes wanted to win, to represent the stars and stripes and carry on the legacy of Team USA greatness that precedes them.
That motivation was clear from the very first “allez,” and the passion didn’t halt until the job was done: a pair of team gold medals on Friday — in Men’s Foil and Women’s Saber.
These were the seventh and eighth fencing gold medals for Team USA at the Pan Am Games — out of 10 awarded so far.
For the Men’s Foil trio of Gerek Meinhardt (Massialas Foundation, Bluegrass Fencers’ Club), Nick Itkin (Los Angeles International Fencing Center) and Miles Chamley-Watson (Los Angeles International Fencing Center), the gold was about continuing a tradition of Men’s Foil greatness at the Pan Am Games.
In Men’s Foil, Team USA has now won five Pan Am Games team championships a row — 2003, 2011, 2015, 2019 and 2023. (The men’s foil team event wasn’t contested in 2007.)
“It tells me that we've had a lot of great fencers over the years,” Meinhardt says. “And I think it's important for us to come out here and represent the USA. While it wasn't an Olympic qualifier, we have so much pride representing our country. And it's always an honor to be up there on the strip. We're happy to bring home another gold for U.S. Men's Foil.”
Each of the men had won team gold before at the Pan Am Games — but never in this exact combination. But for three athletes who are used to fencing together on the biggest stages, that didn’t matter.
“I think we all fenced the best we can today, especially in the end,” Itkin says. “We knew people were going to come hungry so we couldn’t get too comfortable.”
That was true in each round but especially in the semifinals against Chile, where a packed crowd was actively rooting against the U.S.
“All of us kind of love that environment,” Chamley-Watson says. “It's kind of what we came here for. It felt like a soccer match.”
A winning streak was extended in Women’s Saber as well, where the trio of Magda Skarbonkiewicz (Oregon Fencing Alliance), Maia Chamberlain (Manhattan Fencing Center, Advance Fencing and Fitness Academy) and Alexis Anglade (Bergen Fencing Club, Princeton University, Nellya Fencers Club) scored Team USA’s fourth Pan Ams gold in a row.
“It’s a huge honor to be a part of Team USA and to carry on this legacy — it means a lot to us, especially since this is all our first Pan Am Games,” Chamberlain says. “I'm glad that we could show up and perform.”
Anglade, who competed only in the team event, quickly proved that a few days of not fencing in a competitive bout didn’t throw off her game.
“I've been training a lot with these two, and [Women’s Saber Coach] Aleks [Ochocki] didn't give us any breaks,” she says. “I got to watch them fence and get really excited to go today. But I'm so glad that we were able to win.”
The Pan Am Games newcomers have been soaking in the experience as well — and the sun, on the warmest day yet during the fencing competition. With temperatures near 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the sunglasses came out at last.
“We've been hiding from the rain all week, so it's nice to get out and see some sun,” Skarbonkiewicz says. “We’ve been just having fun with each other all week — just seeing the village, having fun — it’s been really great.”