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U.S. Men’s Epee and Women’s Saber Teams Win Pan Am Gold

04/22/2015, 10:30pm CDT
By Nicole Jomantas

(Santiago, Chile) – The U.S. Men’s Epee and Women’s Saber Teams each came to the Pan American Championships with the same goal: win the gold medal and get qualification for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games off to a positive start.

But their routes to the top of the podium on Wednesday were miles apart.

The U.S. Women’s Saber Team arrived in Santiago as the proverbial favorites. With just one loss in the history of the event, Team USA has been ranked No. 1 in the world since winning the 2014 Senior World Championships. Led by two-time Olympian Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore.), the squad also includes her London teammate Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J.) as well as Ibtihaj Muhammad (Maplewood, N.J.) and Eliza Stone (Chicago, Ill.) – both of whom have won medals on the World Cup circuit during the past season.

The U.S. Men’s Epee Team was seen by many as the underdogs of the event who were looking to upset Venezuela – a team that has won this event for two of the past three years and whose star, Ruben Limardo, became one of the most recognized athletes in Venezuela in 2012 after he won the country’s first gold medal in more than 40 years. Team USA’s Ben Bratton (New York City) is the lone carryover from the last squad to win the Pan Ams in 2011 – the year before Team USA won the World Championships for the first time ever. Since 2012, however, three of the squad’s veterans are no longer competing. Bratton himself took nearly two years off and is joined by Jason Pryor (Colorado Springs, Colo.) who competed at the 2013 and 2014 Senior Worlds and Jimmy Moody (Colorado Springs, Colo.) who made his World Championships debut last year. Ari Simmons (Bellaire, Texas) joined the team as the reserve just two weeks after competing at his first Junior Worlds in Uzbekistan. In the individual event, Pryor and Bratton each finished in the top eight while Ruben Limardo and his brother, Francisco Limardo, won gold and bronze.

For the U.S. Women’s Saber Team, a win in Chile would be its fifth straight medal of the World Cup season and would reinforce their World No. 1 status after the first tournament of the Olympic qualification season.

For the U.S. Men’s Epee Team, a win over Venezuela at this event would put them 12 points ahead of Venezuela as they begin a year-long fight to determine which team is the highest ranked in the Americas, thus qualifying for the Rio Games.

By the end of the day on Wednesday, while each squad had a different journey to get there, both would bring home the Pan Am gold.

Competition began with the men’s epee event where Team USA earned a bye into the quarters against Colombia. With the U.S. team up, 26-24, after the sixth bout, Pryor had a breakaway bout against Andres Campos Zarate whom he defeated, 9-4, to push Team USA into a 35-28 lead. Bratton held Gustavo Coqueco to a single touch in the eighth and Moody closed out against John Edison Rodriguez to win the match, 45-31.

In the semifinals against Argentina, Team USA led by two touches at 29-27 after the seventh bout and Bratton had a fast-pace eighth against Jesu Lugones Ruggeri with both athletes scoring eight touches and Team USA leading the bout, 37-35. In the finals, Jose Felix Dominguez caught Moody and tied the bout at 40. Moody pulled away with a single with 20 seconds left in the bout, but Ruggeri sent the bout to overtime with another score with 11 seconds remaining on the clock. In the overtime period, Moody took just 12 seconds to set up the touch needed for the 42-41 win.

“When we’re out there and there’s high pressure situations, we’re so used to it because we put ourselves in those every day. That’s our goal is that we want to have a shot and when we do we’ll take it every time,” said Moody.

The final put Team USA against Venezuela who defeated Cuba in the other semi.

“It would have been really easy to have the mentality of ‘We made the finals. That’s awesome. It’s better than last year’s result.’ But we didn’t want to think like that. We didn’t come here to make the final. We came here to win gold so when we debriefed on Argentina it was all business,” Moody said. “We knew we were really sharp for that last rotation and it was the question of how do we keep that focus and intensity from the start. Because our first two rounds we had pockets with lapses in judgment and all day it was all about trimming the fat and cutting out those moments and when we showed up at the final we were like ‘We’re ready. Let’s take home the gold.’”

Team USA kept the score low against Venezuela earl and had built an 18-13 lead by the end of the fifth bout. Bratton came in against Limardo in the sixth where Limardo outscored 6-2 before withdrawing with an injury. Kelvin Canas replaced Limardo and Bratton finished the bout with a 20-19 lead for Team USA. Prior put Team USA back into the lead after he defeated 2013 Pan Am Champion Silvio Fernandez, 3-2. Bratton split his eighth bout touches with Francisco LImardo at 2-2 and Moody began his final bout with a two-touch U.S. lead for the match.

In the final bout, Canas anchored for Venezuela and tied the match at 29 and scored twice more to give Venezuela 31 touches to Team USA’s 29. As the touches flew back and forth in the final minute, Venezuela held a 33-31 lead, but Moody scored twice in the last 11 seconds.

With their foil and saber teammates cheering Moody on in overtime, he picked up a 34th touch to secure Team USA’s first Pan Am title since 2011.

As Moody ripped off his mask, he yelled: “That’s our gold!” as his teammates rushed to the strip to celebrate.

In the final moments of the bout, Moody said that he thought of his former teammate, three-time Olympian Seth Kelsey (Colorado Springs, Colo.) who anchored Team USA to the 2012 World Championship title.

“I channeled Seth real hard. I was like ‘Seth Kelsey! I miss you bro!’” Moody laughed. “There were a lot of times when I was fencing where I could hear Seth’s voice in my head … Always at the end when Seth fenced the overtime touches, he fenced with such intensity and such a hard tempo that he once told me ‘If you feel like you’re going to have a heart attack at the end of that touch you MAY have done enough work.’ So I was just like ‘Oh God, let’s do this.’”

While the past seasons may have had ups and downs for the squad, Moody said his teammates never lost faith that they will qualify a team for Rio.

“We’ve always believed and it’s something we never doubted. It shows in our practices. When we practice, we do it with a level of intensity and focus that just demands victory<” Moody said. “When we’re out there and there’s high pressure situations, we’re so used to it because we put ourselves in those every day. That’s our goal is that we want to have a shot and when we do we’ll take it every time.”

There won’t be time for Team USA to bask in the victory, however, as next weekend the squad will be in Paris for the first World Cup of the qualification process.

“It’s really exciting. It’s relieving, but there’s really no chance to ease up,” Moody said. “This is the first Olympic qualifier. We did our job. This is what we’ve been preparing for, but now we’re right back to the grind. But it feels great. This team came together today in a way we always knew we could and now it’s just about keeping this level of excellence and consistency.”

Paris will serve as both a team event and an individual qualifier for Moody who dropped from second to fifth in the U.S. rankings after failing to medal at the Division I Nationals in March which meant that he fenced in the team event at the Pan Ams, but not the individual competition. And, while he’s looking to move up in the individual rankings, Moody noted that his primary focus is helping Team USA qualify the team position.

“It’s frustrating because of course I wanted the international points for fencing individual here. I wanted the chance at a medal in the individual event. But we talked about it. For us, our focus is to qualify a quota. The Olympics is all about getting your country there and showing what you can do,” Moody said. “It’s not about me. It’s not about any individual. We finally have team again and it’s like ‘Let’s get our team to the Games’ and then it doesn’t matter who’s in those spots. They will be in a position to medal and that’s our focus and that’s our goal. You’ve gotta take your ego out of it when you fence team. There’s no room for that. And that’s why we’re so successful and so good at what we do.”

Following the men’s epee competition, Team USA took the strip in women’s saber and the U.S. fencers took a quick, 45-15, win over Brazil in the quarter-finals and led throughout the match against Venezuela for a 45-32 semifinal victory.

In the finals, the Americans took on a tough Mexican squad who attempted a late comeback, but Team USA held a 20-touch lead after the eighth bout. With 2014 Cadet World medalist Julieta Toledo up as anchor, Zagunic returned to the strip and closed out the win, 45-28.

“I think we came here today and did our job, did what we had to do. Even though it’s a relatively easy competition for us compared to the World Cups, we still take it seriously and I’m happy we came home with gold,” Zagunis said.

Like men’s epee, the women’s saber team will be one of six squads that will be traveling to return to the circuit next week where the first World Cup of the 2016 Olympic qualifying process will be held in Beijing, China.

“I’m really proud of us that we’ve been able to maintain our No. 1 world ranking throughout the season. Winning World Championships was a really big deal for us and proving that we are a team to beat throughout the season is really a good thing for us,” Zagunis said. “I’m hoping next weekend in Beijing we’ll get a good result and set ourselves up well for World Championship in July.”

For complete men’s team epee results, click here.

For complete women’s team saber results, click here.

Top eight results are as follows:

Men’s Team Epee Pan American Championships
1. USA

2. Venezuela
3. Argentina
4. Cuba
5. Colombia
6. Canada
7. Brazil
8. Mexico

Women’s Team Saber Pan American Championships
1. USA

2. Mexico
3. Venezuela
4. Canada
5. Cuba
6. Dominican Republic
7. El Salvador
8. Brazil 

Tag(s): News  Jimmy Moody