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Smart wins fencing medal for family

08/16/2008, 12:15pm CDT
By No Author

BEIJING (AP) When American fencer Erinn Smart felt her shot at a gold medal slipping away, she turned to someone who knew exactly what she was feeling.

Brother Keeth Smart, whose losses in close matches cost the U.S. a fencing medal in 2004, offered encouragement from the crowd when Erinn struggled through the last rotation of the women's team foil semifinal Saturday against Hungary.

"He was actually the one that kind of calmed me down at the end of that Hungary match," Erinn said. "I was looking at him in the crowd. He just told me to stay calm, focus."

Though she was outscored 14-2, the United States held on to win 35-33. They earned the silver later, losing to Russia in the final, for the American's first ever medal in women's foil and the first for the U.S. in all of foil since 1960.

The Smarts have supported each other through challenges much larger than tough fencing matches.

A year after the Athens Olympics, when Keeth had two straight one-point losses, the Smarts' father died of a heart attack. Soon after, their mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. She died this May.

And earlier this year, Keeth contracted a rare blood disorder.

"She's had such a tough year with my mom, and me being sick, and having to deal with all that, and really not having any time for herself," said Keeth, who reached the quarterfinals in men's saber in Beijing. "Now, she can really relax and enjoy the rest of the Olympic experience."

Erinn laughed and joked at the press conference, saying she knew what kind of lead she had against Hungary.

"Being one point ahead at the end - that's all that matters," she said.

In the finals, Russia's team of Evgenia Lamonova, Victoria Nikichina and Svetlana Boyko simply outdid Smart and teammates Emily Cross and Hannah Thompson, winning 28-11. The finals feature nine three-minute rotations, with a point per touch. Through eight rotations, the Russians led 20-5.

Smart knew the top-ranked Russians were going to be tough.

"The Russians are such a strong team," she said. "They're exceptionally tall, so to try to get touches on them can be extremely difficult."

But she didn't dwell on the loss. The Americans beat No. 2 Poland in the quarterfinals and No. 3 Hungary in the semifinals.

"I don't think we even expected this to turn out as it did," she said. "We were the underdogs going into all of our matches. Some other countries didn't expect us to be as strong as we were."

Winning her medal is a shared achievement, Erinn said.

"Last time around, my parents, they knew how close Keeth was - one point," she said. "This is what they wanted. They wanted us to finally medal. It feels like a family medal to me."

For once, the Smart family caught a break.

"The stars were aligned right," Erinn said. "So, it worked out well for us tonight."

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