skip navigation

Taffel Ends Individual Junior Career with World Title

04/06/2015, 4:45pm CDT
By Nicole Jomantas

Sara Taffel celebrates her Junior World title with her Junior World teammates. Photo Credit: Serge Timacheff / FIE /

Sara Taffel (second from left) receives her gold medal in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Photo Credit: Serge Timacheff / FIE /

(Colorado Springs, Colo.) – Three years ago, Sara Taffel (New York City, N.Y.) fell three touches short of winning the Cadet World Championships in Moscow.

While many would have been pleased with reaching the podium while competing at the Worlds for the first time, Taffel vowed to make the next time different.

“After taking the silver it took me months to get over coming so close to becoming a World Champion. I made a promise to myself the day I lost that by the time it is my last year of juniors I would come back and win the individual event,” said Taffel who kept her promise on Sunday when she won gold at the Junior World Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. “I think my loss in Cadets was one of the main factors that pushed me to become World Champion this year. I learned a lot from my first experience, and that really prepared me this time around.”

Although Taffel drew a short pool of only five opponents, she won each bout and came out of the pools as the No. 1 seed with a bye into the table of 64 where she held a 5-1 lead at the start of her bout against Lydia Casillas (MEX) and scored eight unanswered touches en route to finishing the bout, 15-3, in less than three minutes.

In the table of 32, Taffel began with a six-touch run against Hyunjin Kim (KOR) and went on to win the bout, 15-6, in the second period.

After a 7-4 lead in the first period of her table of 16 bout against Leandra Behr (GER), Taffel grew her lead to 13-8 in the second and finished with a 15-10 win in the third.

For the first time all day, Taffel found herself at a deficit in the quarter-finals where she trailed Komaki Kikuchi (JPN) by two touches at the first break, but Taffel rebounded to tie the bout in the third at 11. Taffel talked briefly with Coach Simon Gershon (Brooklyn, N.Y.) during the break and went on a four-touch run to win the bout, 15-11.

“He told me to fence by yourself. He generally tries to let me fence by myself without him saying anything because he believes in my natural instincts. The logic is sometimes you can have a plan and execute it, but a lot of the times your best actions come from deep within or, as he likes to say, ‘from your stomach,’” Taffel said. “After fencing for so long you begin to develop a sort of innate sense of when to hit and with what actions. It happens so quickly that you don't have time to plan it. That's what happened in the third period. I had a very simple plan of being active in my defense and choosing my moments, but the action itself was instinctual. There were a lot of times where I would just see a moment and lunge in straight and was able to make it one light.”

In the semifinals, Taffel returned to the evening block for the first time since 2013 when she won silver at the Junior Team World Championships.

Fencing Yiting Fu (CHN), Taffel jumped out to a 6-0 lead and methodically worked through three periods as she took out Fu, 15-6.

“In all of my bouts I started off by working to be more defensive, and refrain from attacking until I learned more about my opponent. That's basically what I did here. I tried to draw her out and either attacked in prep, counter attacked, or parried. I would throw in a few attacks when I found a good moment, but, even when I was leading, my plan was to wait for her to make the mistakes instead of rushing to end the bout," Taffel said. 

The gold medal final would be an all-North American affair for the second year in a row as Taffel took on Eleanor Harvey (CAN) who placed second to London Olympian Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky.) in 2014.

A sophomore at Ohio State, Harvey is a familiar opponent for Taffel as the two have competed against each other on the North American Cup circuit as well as at Junior World Cups around the world.

“My bouts with Eleanor are usually very close and you never really know who will come out on top. So, I treated this like the rest of my bouts,” Taffel said. “I tried to avoid attacking at first, and instead tried to feel her out. I wanted to move a lot and take advantage of her mistakes before committing to my attacks.”

By the end of the second period, Harvey had tied the score against Taffel at 11 touches and there were three minutes remaining for either athlete to score the four touches needed to win gold.

“Honestly, my memory of the final bout is all a blur. From what I remember, I was very fatigued. The whole day took a lot of mental and physical energy, and I think by the end of the bout it was more apparent that I started fighting for the win rather than fencing for it. There was a lot of reprises, which I didn't do the whole day. I fenced with a lot of heart, and I think that was why I was able to pull through,” Taffel said. “Not once did I think that either of us would win over the other. Even when I was leading by five touches or when Eleanor came back. I knew this was going to be a fight till the end, and I'm happy that I was able to come out on top. After every break I refreshed as if I was fencing a new bout. Especially going into the final period, I told myself that the score was 0-0 and we were fencing to four.”

Taffel joins a prestigious list of U.S. fencers who have won individual women’s foil titles at the Junior Worlds, including Kiefer as well as London Olympian Nzingha Prescod (Brooklyn, N.Y.) who led Team USA to a 1-2-3 finish in 2011 and Emily Cross (New York City, N.Y.) who won back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006 before winning silver in the team competition at the 2008 Olympic Games. This elite group of five women’s foil fencers was pioneered by Iris Zimmermann (Rochester, N.Y.) who won the first gold for a U.S. athlete in any weapon in 2000 prior to fencing at the Sydney Olympic Games that year.

“It's an amazing feeling. The moment it felt most real was right after the final bout, when everyone hugged me and congratulated me,” Taffel said. “Since then it comes in waves. At times I am in disbelief that out of all the talented fencers who competed I was able to pull through.”

Taffel’s teammate, 2014 Youth Olympic Games Champion Sabrina Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.), arrived in Tashkent as one of the tournament’s favorites after a season that included a silver medal win at the Division I Nationals and a top-16 result on the Senior World Cup circuit.

Massialas came into her second Junior World Championships with a gold medal in the team event in 2014 and took back-to-back Cadet World silvers in 2013 and 2014. Seeded 11th out of pools, Massialas needed just over a minute to defeat Mariami Tsukhishvili (GEO), 15-4, and controlled her table of 32 bout against 2013 Junior World Team Champion Erica Cipressa (ITA) for a 15-7 victory.

In the table of 16, Massialas fenced a cautious bout against 2014 Junior World medalist Karin Miyawaki (JPN), but came out on top at 10-6.

Massialas struggled midway through her quarter-final bout against Leonie Ebert (GER) who won gold in the cadet event on Friday. Ebert picked up four straight touches for a 10-4 lead early in the second period and didn’t look back as she went on to defeat Massialas, 15-9.

Iman Blow (Brooklyn, N.Y.), the reigning Pan American Junior Champion, was ranked fourth in the world at the start of her first Junior World Championships and won her first direct elimination bout of the day, 15-11, against Nicole Camozzato (BRA) in the table of 64. After a 15-10 win against Martyna Dlugosz (POL) in the 32, Blow lost her next bout to Harvey, 15-8.

Taffel, Massialas, Blow and three-time Cadet World Team member Morgan Partridge (Swansea, Mass.) will fence in the quarters of the team competition on Wednesday where Team USA enters the event as the reigning World Champions.

“I know we have the potential to win the team event. It's obvious that all of our girls are very talented, but I think what's most important is that we are fighters. We have a lot of heart and we want won't accept anything less than a win,” Taffel said. “I know Sabrina, Iman, Morgan and I will work to fence our best, and I believe that our best is good enough. I am very excited to be on a team with them and to try to leave my last Junior Worlds with two gold medals!”

In the men’s epee event, Anton Piskovatskov (Houston, Texas) earned Team USA’s highest result with a 26th place finish. Piskovatskov won his first two bouts against Omer Kaan Oztunc (TUR) and Abdelrahman Adel (EGY) by 15-12 and 15-7 scores, respectively, before falling to eventual silver medalist Zsomber Banyai (HUN), 15-12, in the table of 32.

Ariel Simmons (Bellaire, Texas), the 2013 Cadet World Champion, went undefeated in the pools at 5-0 and earned a sixth seed and a bye into the table of 64 where he lost to Ariel Drizin (ISR), 15-9.

Justin Yoo (La Verne, Calif.) made history in 2014 with his silver medal win at the Cadet Worlds and bronze medal finish in the junior event, but Yoo fell short of the podium this year after a 15-9 loss to Josef Mahringer (AUT).

Click here to view complete women’s foil results.

Click here to view complete men’s epee results.

Top eight and U.S. results are as follows:

Junior Women’s Foil World Championships
1. Sara Taffel (New York, N.Y.)
2. Eleanor Harvey (CAN)
3. Leonie Ebert (GER)
3. Yiting Fu (CHN)
5. Komaki Kikuchi (JPN)
6. Sabrina Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.)
7. Anna Szymczak (POL)
8. Daylen Cri Moreno Valiente (POL)

14. Iman Blow (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Junior Men’s Epee World Championships
1. Hippolyte Bouillot (FRA)
2. Zsomber Banyai (HUN)
3. Yulen Pereira (ESP)
3. Yangdong Xue (CHN)
5. Adrian Dabija (ROU)
6. Federico Vismara (ITA)
7. Patrik Esztergalyos (HUN)
8. Harrison Nichols (GBR)

26. Anton Piskovatskov (Houston, Texas)
35. Ariel Simmons (Bellaire, Texas)
68. Justin Yoo (La Verne, Calif.)

Tag(s): News  Sabrina Massialas