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Pan Am Championships Individual Preview

04/16/2015, 4:00pm CDT
By Nicole Jomantas

Nzingha Prescod (left) and Lee Kiefer fenced in the gold medal final at the 2013 Pan American Championships. Photo Credit: Amy Timacheff / FIE /

(Santiago, Chile) – With the first 2016 Olympic qualifier for fencing set to begin on Saturday, athletes from more than 20 countries have descended upon Santiago, Chile for the Pan American Championships which will begin on Saturday and conclude on April 23.

Individual events will be held on from Saturday through Monday with the team competition beginning on Tuesday and concluding on Thursday, April 23.

Team USA is headlined by nine athletes who have won individual Pan American Championship titles as well as 13 members of the 2012 Olympic Team and eight past Senior World Championship medalists. The Americans will face stiff competition, though, as the Pan American zone includes a number of World Cup medalists and past Pan American Champions who are looking to get the qualification process started with the 48 Adjusted Olympic Ranking points that are available for a gold medal in the first of 10 individual events that will be held before slots at the Rio Olympic Games begin to be allocated in March 2016.

The following is a look at Team USA’s lineup as well as who to watch across the zone:

Men’s Foil
Competition Date: Saturday, April 18
U.S. Fencers (incl. hometown and World Ranking):

Race Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y. / No. 2)
Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif. / No. 4)
Alex Massialas (San Francisco, Calif. / No. 6)
Miles Chamley-Watson (New York, N.Y. / No. 26)

With three fencers all ranked within the top six in the world, Team USA has the greatest depth in this event of any country in the men’s foil field. All four U.S. fencers were members of the 2012 Olympic Team and the squad that won silver at the 2013 Senior World Championships. Each member of this team has earned individual podiums at this event in the past. The Americans have won individual gold at the Pan Ams in the men’s foil competition for the last four years with Meinhardt winning the last two titles and Imboden claiming gold in 2011 and 2012. A gold medalist at the Pan American Games in 2011, Massialas just missed winning his first Pan Am Championship title three times as he placed second behind Meinhardt in 2014 and took silver to Imboden’s gold in both 2011 and 2012. Chamley-Watson, the 2013 Senior World Individual Champion, claimed bronze at the 2013 Pan Ams and silver in 2010.

On the World Cup circuit, Imboden and Massialas have each won individual medals during the first six tournaments of the current season with Imboden being a dominant force on the circuit after four podium finishes, including two gold. After opening the season with an injury at the San Francisco World Cup in October, Massialas climbed to No. 6 in the rankings when he won medals in two of the first three tournaments of 2015 with a bronze in Paris in January and silver at the Havana World Cup in Cuba last month.

Around the Zone: Team USA will face competition from Brazil and Canada. As the Rio Olympic Games approach, Brazil continues to ramp up its depth in all sports and fencing is no exception. Ghislain Perrier had a breakout season in 2014 when he won bronze at the Seoul World Cup which he followed with a top-32 result at last year’s Senior World Championships. Guilherme Toldo was the only non-U.S. athlete to reach the podium at the 2014 Pan Ams where lost to Meinhardt in the semis and joined Imboden on the bronze medal step. Canadian Maximilien Van Haaster is also one to watch as one of the few fencers in the zone outside of Team USA to have posted wins against Massialas. Van Haaster defeated Massialas at the 2013 Pan Ams en route to winning bronze as well as at the 2014 La Coruna World Cup. Massialas won their last bout, however, by a 15-8 score at the 2014 Senior Worlds. And don’t count out Antonio Leal to try and stay in the mix. The Venezuelan was the last fencer outside of the United States to win a Pan Am men’s foil title when he defeated Chamley-Watson in the 2010 Pan Am gold medal final.

Women’s Epee
Competition Date: Saturday, April 18
U.S. Fencers (incl. hometown and World Ranking):

Courtney Hurley (San Antonio, Texas / No. 10)
Katharine Holmes (Washington, D.C. / No. 21)
Kelley Hurley (San Antonio, Texas / No. 38)
Isabel Ford (Salem, Ore. / No. 175)

It has been five years since a fencer outside of Team USA has won an individual gold in women’s epee at the Pan Ams and three of the last four titles have gone to a Hurley – either younger sister Courtney Hurley (San Antonio, Texas) or her older sister Kelley Hurley (San Antonio, Texas). The Hurleys won bronze together in the team event at the 2012 Olympic Games and Courtney comes into the event as the two-time reigning Pan Am Champion while Kelley won gold in 2011. Ranked No. 1 in the U.S., two-time Senior World Team member Katharine Holmes (Washington, D.C.) went up against Courtney in both of her Pan American appearances and came away with a pair of silvers in 2013 and 2014. The trio will be joined by newcomer Isabel Ford (Salem, Ore.) who qualified for her first National Team after  placing in the top eight at the Division I National Championships in February.

Around the Zone: A Senior World medalist for Italy in 2010, Nathalie Moellhausen now fences for Brazil and could be one of the host nation’s biggest stars in Rio. Moellhausen placed in the top eight at her first Pan Ams in 2014 and is expected to be a podium threat in Chile. Isabel Di Tella trains at Harvard, but the Argentinian native has won bronze at the Junior Worlds for her home country in 2013 and placed third at the 2014 Pan Ams.

Men’s Epee
Competition Date: Sunday, April 18
U.S. Fencers (incl. hometown and World Ranking):

Jason Pryor (Colorado Springs, Colo. / No. 49)
Ariel Simmons (Bellaire, Texas / No. 160)
Yeisser Ramirez (Brooklyn, N.Y. / No. 185)
Ben Bratton (New York City, N.Y. / No. 211)

Team USA’s Jason Pryor (Colorado Springs, Colo.) made his mark at the Pan Ams in 2014 when he won his first individual international medal with a bronze in Costa Rica while his teammate, 2012 Senior World Team Champion Ben Bratton (New York, N.Y.) will be fencing in the tournament for the first time since 2010. The two will be joined by Ariel Simmons (Bellaire, Texas) – the 2013 Cadet World Champion who is fencing on his first Senior National Team – and Cuban-born Yeisser Ramirez (Brooklyn, N.Y.) who began representing Team USA for the first time this season.

Around the Zone: All eyes will be on the Venezuelans, including Ruben Limardo who won gold at the 2012 Olympic Games and followed with a silver at the 2013 Senior World Championships. His younger brother, Francisco Limardo, won his first individual Pan Am title in 2014 and their teammate Kelvin Canas took bronze. Silvio Fernandez rounds out a strong squad and holds both the 2013 Pan Am title as well as multiple World Cup medals and two top-eight finishes at the Senior Worlds. After winning silver at the 2014 Pan Ams, Brazilian Nicolas Ferreira could be a podium contender this year as well.

Women’s Saber
Competition Date: Sunday, April 18
U.S. Fencers (incl. hometown and World Ranking):

Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore. / No. 2)
Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J. / No. 4)
Ibtihaj Muhammad (Maplewood, N.J. / No. 11)
Eliza Stone (Chicago, Ill. / No. 19)

Since the creation of the Pan American Championships, Team USA has won all but one of the individual women’s saber titles and the American women hope to continue that trend in Santiago. A five-time individual Pan Am and two-time Olympic Champion, Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore.) is ready to return to the top of the podium after placing second in 2014. All three of Zagunis’s teammates have won individual medals as well and each is hoping for a first-time gold. London Olympian Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J.) holds three individual Pan Am medals, including a silver from 2012 when she lost to Zagunis in the gold medal final. Ibtihaj Muhammad (Maplewood, N.J.) won her second individual bronze in 2014 as part of a three-medal finish for Team USA and Eliza Stone (Chicago, Ill.) placed second behind Zagunis in her 2013 Pan Am debut.

Around the Zone: Argentinian Maria Belen Perez Maurice has had several career-best results during the past year. The London Olympian upset Zagunis in the gold medal final of the 2014 Pan Ams and won her first Grand Prix bronze in New York in December. Zagunis’s training partner at the Oregon Fencing Alliance, Paola Pliego (MEX), could be another podium contender. Pliego has trained with the Americans and the 2014 Overall Junior World Cup Champion also has had two top-16 finishes on the World Cup circuit during the last year. Alejandra Benitez (VEN), a 2013 Pan Am medalist, could make a return to the podium as well.

Men’s Saber
Competition Date: Monday, April 19
U.S. Fencers (incl. hometown and World Ranking):

Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y. / No. 10)
Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn, Mass. / No. 21)
Jeff Spear (Wynantskill, N.Y. / No. 31)
Peter Souders (Silver Spring, Md. / No. 169)

Team USA boasts three athletes who have fenced in the finals of the Pan Am Championships during the last four years. Led by London Olympian Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y.) who won gold in 2011, the American squad also includes 2014 Pan Am Champion Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn, Mass.) and 2012 Pan Am silver medalist Jeff Spear (Wynantskill, N.Y.) Following his top-eight finish at the Div I Nationals, Peter Souders (Silver Springs, Md.) qualified for his first National Team and will be making his Pan Am debut in Santiago.

Around the Zone: Three-time Olympian Renzo Agresta (BRA) won gold in 2013 and bronze at the 2014 Pan Ams where he lost to Dershwitz in the semis. Also watch for Canadians Joseph Polossifakis and Shaul Gordon to be in the mix. Polossifakis defeated Spear to win gold in 2012 and Gordon is an 2012 NCAA runner-up who fences for UPenn.

Women’s Foil
Competition Date: Monday, April 19
U.S. Fencers (incl. hometown and World Ranking):

Women’s foil remains the one weapon in which Team USA has never lost a title at the Pan Am Championships. At just 20-years-old, Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky.) has won the last five Pan Am titles with her London Olympic teammate, Nzingha Prescod (Brooklyn, N.Y.), holding the previous gold in 2009. Nicole Ross (New York City, N.Y.), a 2012 Olympian, has placed in the top eight at this event during the past three years, but won bronze in 2009 and is poised for an individual medal after winning a series of team golds. While Sabrina Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.) will be fencing at the Pan Ams for the first time in the individual competition, the 2014 Youth Olympic Games Champion fenced the team event in Costa Rica and earned a career-best top-16 individual result at the Algers World Cup in February.  

Around the Zone: Canada boasts two past Pan Am medalists on its squad, including 2014 silver medalist Kelleigh Ryan and 2013 bronze medalist Alanna Goldie. Eleanor Harvey, who trains with Goldie at Ohio State, is fresh off her second silver medal win at the Junior World Championships and could break through on the senior circuit. 

Tag(s): News  Miles Chamley-Watson  Sabrina Massialas