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Rio Olympic Preview: Individual Events

08/06/2016, 3:00am CDT
By Nicole Jomantas

All events will be held at Carioca 3. Photo Credit: Augusto Bizzi / FIE.

(Rio de Janeiro) - The saying goes that "you've gotta beat everybody to win gold" and the U.S. Olympic Fencing Team will put that to the test as 14 American fencers take the strip from Aug. 6-10 at Carioca Arena 3 for five days of individual competition.

The draw, which includes seeding for all fencers based on their world rankings, was held Thursday and athletes from 40+ countries gathered around their phones and computers to see who their opponents would be.

The following is a preview of each day's action (All times local / Eastern +1); seeds are referenced in listings, not world rankings:

Women's Epee: Saturday, Aug. 6
First bouts for Team USA
Table of 32
10:45 a.m.
Blue: No. 17 Kat Holmes (Washington D.C.) vs. No. 16 Erika Kirpu (EST)
Green: No. 14 Courtney Hurley (San Antonio, Texas) vs. No. 19 Yana Shemyakina (UKR)
11:10 a.m.
Yellow: No. 15 Kelley Hurley vs. No. 18 Nathalie Moellhausen (BRA)

Live Stream

4 p.m.
Semifinals

5:15 p.m. 
Bronze Medal Final

5:45 p.m.
Gold Medal Final

One of the first questions Team USA's Courtney and Kelley Hurley (San Antonio, Texas) always ask when seeing the draw is "Do we fence at the same time?" The sisters, who won team bronze together in London, will get a reprieve from the stress of competing on opposite strips at the same time - for their first bouts anyway.

The question that follows from the rest of the world, media and fencing fans alike, is "Could they fence each other?" Well, yes. But it would take three direct elimination wins to put the sisters into a semifinal matchup, with the winner advancing to the gold-medal final and the loser fencing for bronze.

But there's a lot of fencing to be done first.

All three Americans are in separate quadrants and have byes into the table of 32, where each will fence an Olympic medalist in the opening round.

Courtney drew the 2012 Olympic Champion Yana Shemyakina (UKR) in the 32. The Ukranian, who won gold four years ago, is now ranked No. 28 in the world. Courtney won their last bout at the Barcelona World Cup earlier this season while Shemyakina hasn't reached the top eight of any event on the circuit in more than a year. The two previously fenced in Rio, however, with Shemyakina taking the win by just one touch in a pool bout. A win in the 32 would move Hurley into the 16 where she could face three-time Olympian Tatiana Logunova (RUS) - a 36-year-old Russian who fenced at the Sydney, Athens and Beijing Games. Epee fencers often peak in their late 20s and early 30s, and Logunova has had a resurgence, climbing to No. 3 in the world rankings and winning medals at three individual events this season, including gold at the Rio de Janeiro Grand Prix in April, which served as the test event for the Games. 

Kelley's first bout will likely be a loud one as she faces Nathalie Moellhausen, who is now fencing for host Brazil after representing Italy at the London Olympic Games and winning bronze for her birth country in 2010. The two last fenced individually in the finals of the 2015 Pan American Championships, where Moellhausen took gold at her first Pan Ams. In the table of 16, Kelley's next opponent could be World No. 1 Anqi Xu (CHN), who won gold at the London Games in team, but will be making her individual debut in Rio.

Fencing at her first Games, Kat Holmes (Washington, D.C.) will fence Erika Kirpu, an Estonian who came through the junior ranks with Holmes and broke through with a bronze medal at the 2014 Senior World Championships at just 22-years-old. Sara Besbes (TUN), a 2015 Senior World bronze medalist, drew the top seed in the event and could fence Holmes in the 16 after recently climbing the world rankings to No. 2.

Men's Foil: Sunday, Aug. 7
First Bouts for Team USA
Table of 32
10 a.m. 
Green: No. 3 Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.) vs. winner of No. 30 Max Van Haaster (CAN) vs. No. 35 Antonio Leal (VEN)
11 a.m.
Yellow: No. 15 Miles Chamley-Watson (New York City, N.Y) vs. No. 18 Artur Akhmatkhuzin (RUS)
11:30 a.m.
Yellow: No. 2 Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.) vs. winner of No. 31 Mohamed Essam (EGY) vs. No. 34 Henrique Marques (BRA) 

Live Stream

4 p.m.
Semifinals

5:15 p.m. 
Bronze Medal Final

5:45 p.m.
Gold Medal Final

Team USA's Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.) and Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.) came in as No. 1 and No. 4 in the world, respectively, but had to wait for the draw to come out to see if they would be on opposite sides of the bracket. Indeed, both were given seed flips with Massialas picking up the second seed and Meinhardt the third, setting the Massialas Foundation teammates into a lineup with a potential final against each other.

A top-eight finish at the Pan Ams moved 2013 Senior World Champion Miles Chamley-Watson (New York City, N.Y.) up the rankings list, but also placed the two-time Olympian in the path of Massialas, creating a world-class matchup in the table of 16.

First, however, Chamley-Watson will face a rematch of his 2013 Senior World final when he takes on Artur Akhmatkhuzin (RUS) in the table of 32.

The winner of Chamley-Watson and Massialas' possible table of 16 bout also may have to face a tough Italian in the quarterfinals as 2012 Olympic Team Champion Giorgio Avolasits in their quadrant.

Meinhardt could fence 2012 Olympic Champion Sheng Lei (CHN) in the 16. While Lei won their table of 16 bout 15-14 at the 2013 Senior World Championships, he has yet to win an individual World Cup or Grand Prix medal since then, while Meinhardt has earned three World Cup and three Grand Prix medals since the 2013 Worlds as well as a bronze at the 2015 Worlds. Among Meinhardt's potential opponents on the path to the semis is 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Andrea Cassara (ITA), who is now ranked No. 22 in the world and could face Meinhardt in the eight.

On the opposite side of the bracket, a pair of Asian fencers are aiming to make their run at the Americans with 2015 Senior World Champion Yuki Ota (JPN) seeded first andJianfei Ma (CHN), a 2014 Senior World silver medalist, seeded fourth.

Women's Saber: Monday, Aug. 8
First Bouts for Team USA
Table of 32
10 a.m.
Green: No. 3 Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore.) vs. winner of No. 30 Eileen Grench (PAN) vs. No. 35 Chika Aoki (JPN)
10:40 a.m.
Green: No. 22 Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J.) vs. No. 11 Vassiliki Vougiouka (GRE)
11 a.m. 
Blue: No. 8 Ibtihaj Muhammad (Maplewood, N.J.) vs. No. 25 Olena Kravatska (UKR)

Live Stream

4 p.m.
Semifinals

5:15 p.m. 
Bronze Medal Final

5:45 p.m.
Gold Medal Final

All five of the individual medals won by U.S. fencers since 2004 have come from a dominant women's saber program. While two-time Olympic Champion Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore.) missed the podium in 2012 with a fourth-place finish, she's on a mission to claim a third gold and continue her reign as the most decorated women's saber fencer in history.

The road to gold won't be easy, however, and Zagunis is expected to fence two-time Senior World medalist Ekaterina Dyachenko (RUS) in the 16. Zagunis has won nearly all of their matchups, but Dyachenko defeated the American twice in 2013.  

The quarters could include an all-American matchup between Zagunis and 2012 Olympian Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J.), but watch for 2014 Senior World medalist Yana Egorian (RUS) and Vassiliki Vougiouka (GRE) to make runs at top-eight finishes as well. Vougiouka defeated Zagunis at the Seoul Grand Prix in March, but Zagunis won their two previous bouts this season in Athens and Caracas.

One of Zagunis' greatest challenges could be a semi against Olga Kharlan (UKR) - the two-time World Champion who defeated Zagunis in the medal rounds during their last two meetings by 15-13 scores. On the opposite side of the bracket, World No. 1 Sofya Velikaya (RUS) won silver in London and gold at the 2015 Senior World Championships. After having a baby in 2013, Velikaya is on a mission to complete her comeback with an Olympic title. Zagunis and the Russian haven't fenced since Caracas, however, where Zagunis defeated her rival for gold.

While many have the top half of the bracket already slated for Velikaya, Ibtihaj Muhammad (Maplewood, N.J.) is looking to be the event's spoiler. Muhammad, who will be the first U.S. woman to compete at the Olympic Games in a hijab, will garner attention just for reaching the first round, but Muhammad medaled twice on the World Cup circuit this season and defeated Kharlan to earn her position on Team USA. With the spotlight on, Muhammad will be aiming for the upset against Velikaya should they meet in the eight.

Men's Epee: Tuesday, Aug. 9
First Bouts for Team USA
Table of 32
10:45 a.m.
Green: No. 19 Jason Pryor (South Euclid, Ohio) vs. No. 14 Benjamin Steffen (SUI)

Live Stream

4 p.m.
Semifinals

5:15 p.m. 
Bronze Medal Final

5:45 p.m.
Gold Medal Final
First-time Olympian Jason Pryor (South Euclid, Ohio) will be competing in the most unpredictable of all the weapons. In an event where it's not uncommon for World and Olympic Champions to go out before the 16, Pryor is looking to follow in the upset footsteps of fencers such as Ruben Limardo (VEN), who won gold at the 2012 Olympic Games to take his first ever medal on the World or Olympic stage. Pryor has had several key upsets in his career, including a win against World No. 1 Gauthier Grumier (FRA) at the Doha Grand Prix earlier this year.

Women's Foil: Wednesday, Aug. 10
First Bouts for Team USA
Table of 32
9:10 a.m.
Yellow: No. 7 Nzingha Prescod (Brooklyn, N.Y.) vs. No. 26 Nataly Michel (MEX)
10:25 a.m.
Red: No. 4 Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky.) vs. Mona Shaito (LIB)

Live Stream

5:30 p.m.
Semifinals

7:20 p.m. 
Bronze Medal Final

8:15 p.m.
Gold Medal Final

In a field where Russia and Italy each have the plan to control the podium, both of Team USA's fencers have the potential to spoil the European party.

World No. 3 Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky.) has had the season of her life, winning four medals on the circuit out of eight events, including silver or gold at the last three World Cup and Grand Prix tournaments. A Senior World bronze medalist at age 17, Kiefer placed in the top eight in London at age 18 and hopes to become the first-ever U.S. fencer to win an individual Olympic medal in women's foil. Her teammate, Nzingha Prescod (Brooklyn, N.Y.), made history herself last year when she became just the third U.S. women's foil fencer ever to win a Senior World medal, earning the bronze in Moscow.

Watch for Kiefer to collide with 2012 Olympic Champion Elisa Di Francisca (ITA) in the quarterfinals. The two haven't fenced each other in an individual event since the St. Maur World Cup in November when Kiefer took bronze after a 15-14 loss to the Italian.

A win against Di Francisca could position Kiefer against World No. 1 Arianna Errigo (ITA). The two-time World Champion defeated Kiefer in the quarters in London and is looking for her first individual Olympic gold in Rio after finishing second behind Di Francisca in London. Errigo is in the midst of an eight-tournament medal streak that began in St. Maur in November and continued through her gold medal win at Europeans in June.

While Kiefer's half of the bracket is dominated by Italians, Prescod will have the Russians to contend with. Should Prescod advance to the quarters, she could fence reigning Senior World Champion Inna Deriglazova (RUS), with the winner looking at a potential semi against 2008 Olympic Champion Aida Shanaeva (RUS).

Men's Saber: Wednesday, Aug. 10
First Bouts for Team USA
Table of 32
1:05 p.m.
Red: No. 12 Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn, Mass.) vs. No. 21 Seppe Van Holsbeke (BEL)
Yellow: No. 10 Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y.) vs. No. 23 Ilya Mokretcov (KAZ)

Live Stream

6:30 p.m.
Semifinals

7:50 p.m. 
Bronze Medal Final

8:45 p.m.
Gold Medal Final

Team USA's men's saber fencers, Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y.) and Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn, Mass.), bring a mixture of youth and experience to the strip.

A two-time Olympian, Homer placed in the top eight in London, which served as the catalyst for his success over the past few seasons, culminating in a silver medal at the 2015 Senior Worlds where he lost to Alexey Yakimenko (RUS) in the finals. The two could fence again in the quarters, in which Homer is hoping for a repeat of their London result where he took the win, 15-14.

Twenty-year-old Dershwitz, who won gold at the Seoul Grand Prix to secure his position on Team USA, has a stacked quadrant of medal candidates, including a potential table of 16 matchup with three-time Senior World medalist Tiberiu Dolniceanu (ROU) and a possible quarterfinal with 2012 Olympic Champion Aron Szilagyi (HUN).

Dershwitz and Homer remain on the opposite sides of the bracket and couldn't meet until the medal rounds.

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