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U.S. Men’s Foil Team Wins First Bronze Since 1932

08/13/2016, 2:30am CDT
By Nicole Jomantas

(Rio de Janeiro) – After 84 years, the U.S. Men’s Foil Team has a medal to its name again, winning bronze for the first time since the 1932 Olympic Games on Friday and dispatching Italy, the reigning World and Olympic Champions, in the process by a 45-31 margin.

While the medal drought had been nearly a century for the program, Team USA came into the Games committed to a podium finish after ending the World Cup season ranked No. 2 in the world with medal finishes at four out of five tournaments.

The consistency of Americans Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.), Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.), Miles Chamley-Watson (New York City, N.Y.) and Race Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y.) this season also puts Team USA into the No. 1 world ranking to conclude the season.

“It’s like years and years of work for this and as far as Americans as a whole, it’s something people said would never happen for [U.S.] men’s foil and I couldn’t have done it with a better group of guys,” Imboden said. “The main thing for me is that this is bigger than us. This is something that U.S. Fencing has pulled together over years and I wish you guys knew what it felt like to be a kid and watch some of our – like [Alex’s] dad [Greg] was at the Olympic Games. Our training partners were at the Olympic Games. Gerek went before we all went and we were never in contention. And then we showed up in London and came this close, and we came back here wanting this medal.”

The journey would not be easy, however.

In the quarter-finals, an Egyptian team led by 2012 Olympic silver medalist Alaaeldin Abouelkassem won two of their first three bouts against the Americans to take a 15-11 lead.

After a 6-5 win by Meinhardt against Tarek Ayad and an 8-4 victory over Mohamed Essam, the Americans went on to finish the match, 45-37, and secure a position in the medal rounds.

In the semis, however, Russia arrived with a gold medal in its sights and the desire to meet Italy again in the final after defeating the reigning Olympic Champions at the European Championship in June.

Russia dominated much of the match; however, Chamley-Watson lit up the scoreboard with the match of his life, putting up a total of 24 touches, including 10 against individual bronze medalist Timur Safin and nine against Artur Akhmatkhuzin – the 2013 Senior World silver medalist who defeated Chamley-Watson in the individual event.

While Chamley-Watson gave the United States a 40-39 lead after the eighth bout, Massialas was only able to score two on 2014 Senior World Champion Alexey Cheremisinov and Russia went on to win the match, 45-41.

“That was probably one of the worst team matches I’ve ever fenced in my whole life,” said Massialas who won silver in the individual event and has anchored the American team to World Championship and World Cup podium finishes in the past four years. “I felt like I let the whole team down, but at the end of the day, my teammates took it in stride. What happens in fencing happens. Whatever happens in sports happens and they all had my back. There were no drooping heads, except for mine, and all they did was try to pick my head back up and get me in the right mind space.”

The team took time to regroup, discuss what happened in the semis and refocus on fencing their greatest rivals for bronze.

“Obviously we were all disappointed. It wasn’t just Alex. I didn’t fence great either. Miles fenced amazing, kept us in it. It’s always tough when you lose, and we went back and tried to get over it as quickly as possible, set our minds on this match so we’d be ready,” Meinhardt said.

In a rematch of the London Olympic semifinals, the Italians entered the match after three straight podium finishes at the Olympic Games and their experienced showed with a 20-17 lead after winning three of the first four bouts.

As he did in London when the United States beat France in the quarters after an 11-2 run by Meinhardt, it was the three-time Senior World medalist who would produce the clutch result to turn the tide for Team USA. Meinhardt crushed the fifth bout with an 8-0 shutout of 2012 Olympic Team Champion Andrea Baldini.

“I’d been a little frustrated the whole day to be honest. I didn’t fence great against Egypt or Russia. There were moments where I felt like I was waking up or fencing a bit better, and then finally I broke through,” Meinhardt said. “I think it was a little frustration. It further motivated me. Obviously it was a close match and I just stepped up thankfully. [I] was able to turn it around with that match and just focus on minimizing my mistakes so he wouldn’t be able to get points and it turned out well.”

With a 25-20 lead, Meinhardt’s teammates began picking off their opponents one by one.

Massialas avenged his loss to Daniele Garozzo in the next bout with a 5-1 win. Meinhardt matched that with a 5-1 victory over 2012 Olympic Team Champion Giorgio Avola to end the day with a +10 indicator. Imboden came in as the replacement athlete for the eighth bout and put up a 5-4 score against Italy to grow the U.S. lead to 40-26.

In the anchor bout, Massialas closed with a 5-5 split against Baldini as the Americans won the match, 45-31.

“The main job was to just get the last five touches and I couldn’t have done it without these teammates. These are the best three guys you could ever wish for as a team. It’s more than a medal in my mind at this point, so thank you and kudos to these guys,” Massialas said after becoming the first U.S. man to win both individual and team medals at the same games since Joseph Levis won silver in individual and bronze in team in 1932. “We’re a team. No matter what happens, we won it together. That’s all that matters. That’s all that matters.”

Imboden noted that the dominance of their win over Italy – a team that has been on the podium at every Olympic Games since 2000 – was a monumental occasion that will the team sees as propelling the program in the future.

“When we were growing up, we could make it to the match where we fenced the Italians, because we were one of the lowest ranked teams and they were always No. 1 and we always drew them early, we just consistently got crushed by them,” Imboden said. “It took us years for us to build up even any momentum against them, so for us to come to an Olympic Games and not only fence them for a medal, but to send them home without one and they’ve had one forever, and to trade it off to have America get a medal, it’s symbolic in men’s foil, it’s like a changing of the guards, even though it wasn’t for the gold.”

The win didn’t come overnight, however, and Chamley-Watson noted that the team bronze was years in the making.

“This has been a work in progress. We started out and making top eights was amazing for us and then we broke through the top four and then we had one year where we won everything or got second as a team,” Chamley-Watson said. “It’s been such a hard road for us. The best part, though, is that it’s the same team as in London.”

The team’s fourth place result in London was one of its best in nearly a century and Imboden said it was that result that helped motivate them as they trained for Rio.

“Just to give you an idea, going into London, we made the medal round one time and we matched it in London and everybody was like ‘Wow!’” Imboden said. “All of a sudden, we got that belief that we were starting to become competitors and after London we had our best season ever where we finished with silver at World Championships and being No. 1 in the world the next year.”

Meinhardt reflected on his past three Olympic experiences and how the team’s goals have changed.

“[In] Beijing in 2008, I took 10th and it wasn’t extremely disappointing. I felt amazing just to qualify,” Meinhardt said. Here, I lost in the top eight, Alex obviously took second. He was disappointed he didn’t win and I was disappointed I didn’t get into the semifinals. It’s just a total different mindset. We feel like we belong here.”

Tag(s): News  Race Imboden  Alexander Massialas  Gerek Meinhardt  Miles Chamley-Watson