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2016 Rio Olympic Games – One Year Out

08/05/2015, 8:15pm CDT
By Nicole Jomantas

London Olympians Alex Massialas, Nzingha Prescod and Gerek Meinhardt each won medals at the Senior Worlds in Moscow. Photo Credit: Nicole Jomantas

(Colorado Springs, Colo.) – With 365 days remaining before the 2016 Olympic Games begin in Rio de Janeiro, the U.S. Fencing Team has just concluded one of its most successful seasons ever with Team USA prepared to reach the podium in Brazil.

A season that featured 20 individual and eight team World Cup medal wins by U.S. athletes concluded in July when Team USA won five medals at the Senior World Championships – breaking the record of four that was previously set at the 2006 Senior Worlds.

Qualification for the Rio Olympic Games began for U.S. athletes at the Pan American Championships in April in Santiago, Chile where Team USA won gold in 10 of the 12 events and claimed a total of 19 medals, including six team titles and 13 individual medals.

In May, the first World Cup and Grand Prix tournaments were held for each weapon and the world’s best fencers battled again for qualification points at the Senior Worlds. The qualification season resumes in October with both the World Cup circuit and the domestic tournaments resuming. Team selection will be based on results at both domestic and international tournaments with the nominees being announced on April 16 at the conclusion of the 2016 USA Fencing Division I National Championships in Richmond, Va.  

Click here to view a summary of the qualification criteria for the U.S. Olympic Fencing Team.

The following is a look at some of the top fencers to watch on the Road to Rio:

Men’s Foil
(Max Team Size: Three individual athletes plus one replacement athlete for team event only)
After placing fourth at the 2012 Olympic Games with two athletes fresh out of high school, the U.S. Men’s Foil Team remains one of the youngest in the world, but the past three years have resulted in a series of firsts for the squad whose athletes have become medal contenders at every international event, both individually and as a team.

For the first time in history, two U.S. men’s foil fencers stood together on the individual podium at the Senior World Championships in Moscow. Just five years after Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.) became the first U.S. man in any weapon to win an individual medal at the Senior Worlds, he returned to the podium again to earn a second bronze while his teammate, Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.), won his first individual Senior World medal with a silver. Formerly a World No. 1, Meinhardt goes into the new season ranked eighth while Massialas is a career-high No. 3.

While he finished ninth in Moscow, Race Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y.) established himself as a consistent fixture in the final rounds during the World Cup season, winning two gold medals, two bronzes and earning a pair of top-eight results between October and April. Imboden followed his historic season with a gold medal at the Pan American Championships and, ultimately, the No. 1 World Ranking and 2014-15 Overall World Cup title – a first for any U.S. man in any weapon.

The 2013 Senior World Champion, Miles Chamley-Watson (New York City, N.Y.), may not have returned to the podium at this year’s Worlds, but he ended the World Cup season with his first Grand Prix title in Shanghai in May.

As a team, the Americans won two medals on the World Cup circuit, including a gold in Paris and a bronze in Bonn as well as a gold at the Pan American Championships. Team USA concluded the season with a sixth-place result in Moscow and a No. 4 World Ranking, putting the U.S. team in an excellent position not only to qualify itself for Rio, but to open up a Zonal qualification quota for a second team from the Pan Am region which is allocated one position for the highest ranked nation that is not already in the top four in the world by the end of the qualification period.

Women’s Foil
(Max Team Size: Two individual)
London Olympian Nzingha Prescod (Brooklyn, N.Y.) may have taken the first three months of the season to recover from an injury, but she earned a trio of top-eight results on the World Cup circuit during the first three months of 2015, coming just one win away from the podium. At the Senior Worlds, Prescod had her breakthrough moment, defeating 2012 Olympic Champion Elisa Di Francisca (ITA) in the table of 16 and going on to win bronze – making her first African-American woman ever to win an individual medal at the Senior Worlds and the third U.S. woman to win an individual foil medal in the event’s history.

A bronze medalist at the 2011 Senior Worlds, London Olympian Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky.) reached the podium twice during the World Cup season for the first time this year, taking silver in St. Maur and gold in Algers. Kiefer dominated the Pan Ams to win her sixth straight title at just 20-years-old and put herself in position to qualify for a second Olympic Team as the No. 3-ranked women’s foil fencer in the world.

As women’s foil will only be contested as a team event in Rio, the United States can only qualify a maximum of two athletes through the Adjusted Olympic Rankings. Kiefer and Prescod are currently sixth and seventh, respectively, in the AOR and are aiming to conclude the qualification period ranked in the top 14 to earn automatic berths to the 2016 Olympic Games.

After a silver medal win at the Pan Ams, London Olympian Nicole Ross (New York City, N.Y.) is aiming to move past her teammates in the rankings, but an overtime loss to 2014 Youth Olympic Games Champion Sabrina Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.) in the table of 64 in Moscow means Ross will have the pressure on during the final legs of qualification.

Men’s Saber
(Max Team Size: Two individual)
After placing in the top eight three times on the World Cup circuit last year, London Olympian Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y.) won his first Grand Prix medal with a silver at the Seoul event in March where he upset two former Senior World Champions. Homer began the qualification period with a silver at the Pan Ams and became the first U.S. men’s saber fencer in history to reach the podium at the Senior Worlds where he won a silver behind former Overall World Cup Champion Alexey Yakimenko (RUS).

Like women’s foil, men’s saber will only be contested as an individual event in Rio and 19-year-old Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn, Mass.) is seeking to become one of Team USA’s youngest members. Dershwitz broke through at the senior level in 2014 when he won gold at the Pan Ams and successfully defended his title in April with another gold medal. After a top-16 result at the Moscow Grand Prix in May, Dershwitz solidified his position among the top 14 in the AOR where he is now ranked eighth behind Homer who is in seventh.

Jeff Spear (Wynantskill, N.Y.), Homer’s teammate in London, won bronze at the Pan Ams and is aiming to pass either Homer or Dershwitz in the AOR.

Women’s Saber
(Max Team Size: Three individual athletes plus one replacement athlete for team event only)

Eleven years after becoming the first U.S. fencer in 100 years to win Olympic gold, Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore.) is returning for a chance at a third Olympic title in the individual event. Zagunis, who won five medals on the World Cup circuit this season, ended the season ranked No. 3 in the world after the Senior Worlds in Moscow. The reigning Pan American Champion is pushed by her U.S. teammates – two of whom have upset USA Fencing’s most decorated athlete this season. Ibtihaj Muhammad (Maplewood, N.J.) defeated Zagunis at the Seoul Grand Prix en route to winning silver and Zagunis’s London teammate, Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J.) won their last matchup at the Pan American Games in July. Although Wozniak has been injured throughout the season, she claimed medals in Orleans and Athens and is looking to return to form for the remainder of the Olympic qualification period.

A two-time medalist on the World Cup circuit in 2014, Eliza Stone (Chicago, Ill.) sits behind Zagunis, Wozniak and Muhammad in the rankings after sitting out the first two tournaments of the season with injuries, but she won her first individual medal of the season in April with a bronze at the Pan Ams.

In the team competition, the Americans won medals at all five of the World Cups this year and ended the season with a bronze at the Senior World Championships – the squad’s fifth straight team medal at the event. Now ranked No. 3 in the world, the Americans are seeking to regain their No. 1 position after winning gold at the 2014 Senior Worlds.

Men’s Epee
(Max Team Size: Three individual athletes plus one replacement athlete for team event only)

Team USA opened the qualification period on a strong note with a Pan American gold medal and a victory over rival Venezuela as 2012 Senior World Team Champion Ben Bratton (New York City, N.Y.), Jason Pryor (Colorado Springs, Colo.), Ariel Simmons (Bellaire, Texas) and Jimmy Moody (Colorado Springs, Colo.) came out on top after a pair of overtime wins in the medal rounds. The tide turned for the Americans at the Senior Worlds where Team USA lost to Canada in the table of 32. The race is now on between Team USA and Venezuela to see who will end up with the qualification quota with four World Cups remaining for each team to earn points.

Women’s Epee
(Max Team Size: Three individual athletes plus one replacement athlete for team event only)

The Americans were the upset story of the women’s epee competition at the 2012 Olympic Games where Team USA won bronze. Sisters Courtney and Kelley Hurley (San Antonio, Texas) are both back in action and looking strong chances to qualify for their second team together and Kelley’s third after Courtney placed in the top 16 at Senior Worlds and Kelley won her first Grand Prix medal with a bronze in Rio in May.

After winning bronze at the Pan Ams in April, three-time Senior World Team member Katharine Holmes (Washington, D.C.) also got the qualification season off to a good start with a pair of top-16 results at the Rio Grand Prix and Johannesburg World Cup as well as a top-32 finish at Senior Worlds.

The fourth position on the team could be claimed by any number of athletes with former Polish National Team member Katarzyna Trzopek (Pacifica, Calif.) being among the front-runners after fencing at her first Senior Worlds for Team USA this summer.

Following a gold medal at the Pan American Championships and a fifth-place result in Johannesburg, Team USA is within striking distance of retaining a position as one of the top four countries in the world to qualify for Rio and giving a zone quota to another team within the Pan Am region.

Tag(s): News  Eli Dershwitz  Daryl Homer  Courtney Hurley  Kelley Hurley  Race Imboden  Alexander Massialas  Gerek Meinhardt  Jimmy Moody  Ibtihaj Muhammad  Nicole Ross  Jeff Spear  Miles Chamley-Watson  Dagmara Wozniak  Mariel Zagunis  Lee Kiefer  Nzingha Prescod  Kat Holmes  Eliza Stone  Sabrina Massialas