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U.S. Men's Foil Team Decided for London Olympic Games

04/14/2012, 5:04am CDT
By Nicole Jomantas

Miles Chamley-Watson celebrates his quarter-final win. Photo Credit: Nicole Jomantas

(Virginia Beach, Va.) – At the end of 13 tournaments that lapped the world, it may very well have been a series of pool bouts at the Division I National Championships in Virginia Beach that decided the fate of Miles Chamley-Watson (Philadelphia, Pa.)

When competition started on Saturday, the term “bracketology” would be an underestimate of the calculations that were being run by stat rats around the Virginia Beach Convention Center. From other athletes to coaches to administrators, everyone was crunching numbers to see which of three athletes would earn the final individual slot on the Olympic Team, which athlete would be the replacement and which would go home fifth in the rankings.

Qualification for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team began in May of 2011 and concluded at the Nationals this weekend where the top three athletes on the USA Fencing National Point Rankings at the end of the event would earn nominations to the U.S. Olympic Team to compete in both the individual and team events. The fourth athlete would be the replacement athlete who is eligible to compete in the team event. All nominations are subject to confirmation by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

At the start of the day, Chamley-Watson, 2008 Olympian Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.) and David Willette (Lafayette, Calif.) were all eligible to qualify for the Games.

After a 5-1 result in the pools, Chamley-Watson was seeded fourth while Meinhardt and Willette came finished the pools with 11th and 15th seeds, respectively.

While the pools appear to be a small detail in the day, they would make all the difference by the end.

All three athletes advanced to the quarter-finals – the critical point for Chamley-Watson who knew he had to place at least seventh to qualify for the Team.

Both Meinhardt and Willette won their quarter-final bouts, but Chamley-Watson lost toJerry Chang (Mountain View, Calif.), 15-9, just a week after Chang won gold as a member of Team USA at the Junior World Championships.

While a loss in the quarters could mean anywhere between a fifth and eighth place finish, the fact that Chamley-Watson was the highest seeded athlete to drop his quarter-bout meant that he placed the day in fifth place and earned a berth on the Olympic Team.

“Stressful isn’t even the word. Petrified. The fact that I could leave here today and come away with nothing and not even be going at all? That would be awful. You pay so much attention to the numbers all day – where you stand versus everybody else. You like, subconsciously do. You really try not to, but you keep thinking about it all day and somehow I managed to squeak by,” Chamley-Watson said. “Gerek’s one of my best friends and we wanted to make this team together and it’s amazing. I’m just so happy to be third.”

For Chamley-Watson, the London Games will be a return to his hometown where he lived until he was nine-years-old.

“I’m excited beyond words. It’s been a dream of mine ever since I was a little kind and getting to go back to London for it makes it even more amazing,” Chamley-Watson said. “It’s gonna be surreal to see my friends and my family there. People didn’t think I’d take fencing very seriously and now, down the line, I’m an Olympian and it’s amazing to be able to call myself that. I’m really excited and humbled.”

Seventeen-year-old Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.) and 18-year-oldRace Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y.) qualified for the team earlier in the season due to their high level international results and chose not to fence on Saturday, but both athletes agreed that it was intense watching their teammates.

“I’m obviously really glad that I didn’t have to deal with the stress. Watching the other guys battle it out is tough enough as it is when you’re not fencing, but we really feel it for them when they’re going for it,” Massialas said.

Imboden agreed nothing that he was “so relieved. It’s key for me to get a good rest in. It’s been a long season and I had an extra competition in there with Junior Worlds. I can’t imagine the kind of pressure those guys are under.”

Although Meinhardt’s chance at the third slot on the team had disappeared, there was still business to be done because he and Willette, his teammate at the Massialas Foundation at Halberstadt, would fence in the semifinals.

If Willette won the bout and went on to take the gold medal, he would pass Meinhardt in the rankings and be named as the replacement athlete – a position his older sisterDoris Willette (Lafayette, Calif.) held at the Beijing Olympic Games in women’s foil.

With Coach Greg Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.) on the sidelines watching from a distance, Meinhardt won the bout, 15-13, to earn the replacement athlete position.

“We practice every day together and we knew it was going to be an intense bout. It could have gone either way and he fenced great today,” Meinhardt said. “It’s unfortunate that we had to meet in the semis, but, I think David would agree that, if it was going to come down to one of us not making the team, that it’s best that we actually had to fence each other.”

Although Meinhardt won bronze at the 2010 Senior Worlds and would have been a contender for an individual medal in London, he knew that a position in the individual event would come down to more than just his own results in Virginia Beach.

“Coming in, I knew I had to try and win and that was all I could do and everything else was going to fall into place. I knew it was going to be an uphill battle. Miles did a great job and did what he had to to secure that slot,” Meinhardt said. “I fell a little bit short, but it’s good to finish the long season and go and be part of the team. I’m going to train and hopefully be ready to go in and contribute.”

In the gold medal final, Meinhardt faced Chang who was coming off a 15-6 win overRobert Nunziato (New York City, N.Y.) in the semifinals.

With the score tied at 14, passivity was called and the bout was sent into a one-minute overtime period where Meinhardt scored the final touch to win the gold medal.

“There was definitely less motivation for that last bout. It was tough. At that point, though, you don’t want to not give it everything you have. So I tried to motivate myself and, thankfully, I was able to get that last touch,” Meinhardt said. “Jerry was fencing great today and I’m happy that I was able to stay motivated enough to squeak by with the win.”

With the team decided, the foursome is focusing on the next goal – winning both individual and team medals in London.

“We’ve got an excellent chance at a medal. I think we’re a young, strong team. Everybody knows that we’re competitors. I just think that, on a day like that, it’s anybody’s day and we’ve just got to make sure it’s our day,” said Imboden who said he always dreamed of being an Olympian, but didn’t anticipate qualifying at just 18-years-old. “I had a conversation with my coach at one point and when they announced in 2009 that the Olympics were gonna be in Rio I was like ‘Rio… That’s my Games. It’s Rio.’  I always thought I was shooting for 2016 and that’s when I’d be in my prime, but I guess it came a little earlier. Who knew it was going to be in London?”

Unlike at World Cups where a field could include 25 or 30 teams, the Olympic Games will include eight of the best teams in the world – a situation Imboden says works to the U.S. Team’s advantage.

“We can just get right down to business. I think it makes everything more serious. Anytime you have a situation where there’s an alteration where it gets more serious, that’s good for us because it make us more pumped and when our guys are pumped we’re going to do well,” said Imboden who noted that the four are all close friends both on and off the strip. “If we had it our way, we’d all live in one house somewhere and we wouldn’t be on opposite sides of the country, but we’ve got a great camaraderie and we’re shooting for gold and not anything less.”

For Massialas, qualifying for the Games was a dream instilled in his own household as he grew up the child of a three-time Olympian – his father and coach, Greg Massialas.

“My dad never forced me to do any of it, but the first time I saw it I thought it was cool and I wanted to try it,” Alexander Massialas said. “He’s been there with me ever since I was a little kid and a lot of my inspiration comes from being a little kid and walking around the house and seeing the Olympic rings and all the awards and stuff.  A lot of people grow up and don’t necessarily have the Olympics on their mind, but I grew up and, from the very beginning, I had a father who’d gone three times.”

Competition continues on Sunday at the Division I National Championships in which the men’s saber and women’s foil teams for London will be decided.

Sunday’s schedule is as follows:

8 a.m.
Women’s Foil Check In

8:30 a.m.
Men’s Saber Check-In

9:30 a.m.
Women’s Foil Preliminary Competition Begins

10 a.m.
Men’s Saber Preliminary Competition Begins

3:30 p.m.
Men’s Saber Gold Medal Finals

4 p.m. 
Women’s Foil Gold Medal Finals

4:30 p.m. (Approximate)
Team USA Announcement (Finals strip immediately after Women’s Foil Gold Medal Finals)

4:45 p.m. 
Autographs/Photo Opportunities with Team USA 
Media Interviews 
Division I Women's Foil Awards Ceremony

Top eight men’s foil results are as follows:

Division I Men’s Individual Foil
1. Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.)
2. Jerry Chang (Mountain View, Calif.)
3. David Willette (Lafayette, Calif.)
3. Robert Nunziato (New York City, N.Y.)
5. Miles Chamley-Watson (Philadelphia, Pa.)
6. Michael Woo (Wayne, N.J.)
7. Julian Cardillo (Medford, Mass.)
8. Adam Mathieu (Union City, N.J.)

Nominees to the 2012 U.S. Olympic Fencing Team for men’s foil are as follows:

1. Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.)
2. Race Imboden (New York City, N.Y.)
3. Miles Chamley-Watson (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Replacement Athlete: Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.)


Tag(s): News  Race Imboden  Alexander Massialas  Gerek Meinhardt  Miles Chamley-Watson