Geoff Loss after his fifth pool win in Wuxi. Photo Credit: Augusto Bizzi / FIE
Kat Holmes earned the No. 1 ranking out of pools in women's epee. Photo Credit: Augusto Bizzi / FIE
(Wuxi, China) – If they’re being really honest, neither Geoff Loss (Laguna Beach, Calif.) nor Kat Holmes (Washington, D.C.) are 100% sure what day it is.
Loss, the saber fencer, and Holmes, the épéeist, came to that conclusion for very different reasons.
But both began Thursday knowing one thing: It was the first day of Senior Worlds and they needed to make the best of it.
For Loss, the last five days have been somewhat of a blur.
There was the call on Sunday offering him a position on the Senior World Team after Ben Natanzon (Manalapan, N.J.) withdrew with an injury. But Loss, who lives in New York City, wasn’t on the East Coast. He was with his family in his hometown of Laguna Beach – where he had neither a passport, nor competition fencing gear.
So there would need to be a red eye back to New York City, a quick grab of the passport and other documents and a rush to be one of the first in line at the Chinese Consulate to get a same day visa – a near rare occurrence.
Then the transportation hopping would begin – the cross country and trans-Atlantic flights to get to Shanghai, beginning on Tuesday and ending on Wednesday afternoon, followed by a three-hour bus ride to Wuxi.
Loss arrived at the team hotel on Wednesday evening with no time zone acclimation, no training at the competition venue, no weapons checked in advance to avoid the lines on competition day.
What he did have on his side was a positive attitude and the desire to make the most of an opportunity that rarely occurs in the sport of fencing.
And a good night of sleep “in pieces, but still eight hours” definitely didn’t hurt.
“I’m really excited. I don’t really know what time it is or what’s going on. The last four days have kind of been a whirlwind for me, but I’m excited to be here. I’m glad I could represent Team USA. And I’m glad I could get a visa I think faster than the Chinese Consulate has ever given anyone a visa,” Loss laughed.
In the pool rounds, Loss soon realized that he was down a competitor after a fencer from the Ivory Coast failed to appear at the strip – a common occurrence on Thursday. While many would think smaller pools equal less bouts to fence and a better chance to win, they also mean fewer opportunities to score touches and likely a lower indicator even if you do win all your bouts.
Loss won his first four bouts and needed just one more to remain undefeated. His final bout would be against Oleksiy Statsenko – the Ukrainian who defeated Loss, 5-4, in pools at the 2017 Senior Worlds and kept him from advancing straight through to the direct elimination rounds.
“He was the only bout that I lost [in pools last year], 5-4, and I was really really upset and then I ended up losing my first bout after pools and I didn’t end up making the second day and I wasn’t going to let that happen again,” Loss said. “This time, I got up, 4-0, and I just thought ‘Let me take it to him because I’m not letting this happen again.’”
Loss closed the bout at 5-2 and ended the pool round tied for ninth with 2004 Olympic Champion Aldo Montano (ITA).
After advancing to the table of 64, which will be held on Sunday, Loss said he used the circumstances behind his late arrival in Wuxi to his advantage.
“I’m probably the most calm person at this whole World Championships. I had the least to lose of anyone here and that’s what I felt when I was on the strip,” Loss reflected. “I was getting a little bit nervous and I thought ‘Right now me just being on the strip at all, that’s net positive, so let me just go and fence and see what happens.”
Loss also credited 1984 Olympic bronze medalist Peter Westbrook (New York City, N.Y.) with a little extra motivation.
“I’m at Fencers Club where I interact with Peter Westbrook a lot and I thought ‘If I waste this opportunity, Peter will never let me hear the end of it, so I better go out there and do it for Pete,” Loss said.
Loss will join Rio Olympians Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn, Mass.) and Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y.) in the men’s saber table of 64 with both Dershwitz and Homer skipping pools due to their top-16 world rankings.
Two-time Senior World Team member Andrew Mackiewicz (Westwood, Mass.) opened the pool rounds with a 2-2 split, but ended with a pair of wins for a 4-2 record.
In the preliminary table of 64, Mackiewicz would hold an 8-5 lead against Mohamed Ahmer (EGY) who would fight back in the second period to tie the score at 12 and take three straight touches for a 15-12 win.
In comparison to Loss’ whirlwind week, Holmes would have almost the exact opposite experience. Formally named to the team in April, the Rio Olympian earned enough qualifying points for her fifth Senior World Team in May. She arrived in Wuxi over a week ago to participate in an épée training camp with her teammates.
Every day of camp had a similar schedule: eat, sleep, train, recover – maybe visit a local garage gym with one of her male teammates to get extra strength training in – and repeat.
Holmes would fence Alexandra Ndolo (GER) – the 2017 European Championships silver medalist – in her first pool bout.
Ndolo has won all three of their previous individual matchups and used to be one of Holmes’ most challenging opponents in team events as well.
“She used to destroy me for years in team … I would lose, like 12-0, 15-2,” Holmes said. “But then I watched so much video. I had lessons from Zoltan [Dudas] and Andrey [Geva] who would both fence just like her. It was a problem and I had the solution on paper, but now I knew I had to implement it.”
Holmes controlled the bout from the start and finished strong for a 5-2 win.
“She’s one of the physically strongest athletes out there, but I was like ‘You know what? I bet I can deadlift more than you! Bring it on girl,’” Holmes joked afterwards.
After four more victories, Holmes would close the round with a bout against Pauline Brunner (SUI) who held a 2-0 lead going into the final 30 seconds.
“My touch to go down to 0-2, I did the right action, she just kind of noodled out of it and I was like ‘Ugh! I know how to hit you,” Holmes said.
As the clock wound down, Holmes scored twice more to send the bout into priority where she took the third straight touch with a single.
The six straight victories also gave Holmes the No. 1 ranking out of pools and a No. 17 seed in the table of 64 on Sunday.
“I’ve been working really hard and, not just hard, but really focused, since February,” Holmes said. “I’ve been focusing on this event and my taper has been about a month just focusing on Worlds. I feel like I’m in the best physical shape I’ve ever been in. I feel mentally prepared. And so when I stepped out the strip, I felt like I was more prepared than I’d ever been.”
Holmes continued: “And it’s not to say that I haven’t been prepared before. When I went to the Olympics, I said the same thing, but I learned things at the Olympics that I’ve applied to now. And that’s what I always want to do is always learn things from each experience and go into the next one as ready as I can be. That’s how I went into today and it paid off.”
Holmes will fence in the women’s épée table of 64 with 2012 Olympic team bronze medalists Kelley and Courtney Hurley (San Antonio, Texas).
Kelley Hurley was exempt from pools as the No. 13 fencer in the world while Courtney found herself in a short pool after a fencer from Botswana failed to appear at the strip for the round.
Courtney won her first four pool bouts, but dropped the fifth to Patrizia Piovesan Silva (VEN) with a 5-4 loss. With the No. 3 seed in the preliminary table of 64, Courtney took a quick win against Alanoud Al Saadi (UAE), 15-7.
First-time team member Natalie Vie (Phoenix, Ariz.) also found herself in a five-person pool when a fencer from the Ivory Coast failed to appear.
Vie won her first bout, 4-3, in overtime against Malika Khakimova (UZB), but lost each of her next four bouts to end the round at 1-5. Since each of her losses were by one touch, Vie held out hope that she would make the cut, but missed advancing by one placement in the standings.
Competition will continue on Friday with the men’s épée and women’s foil individual rounds.
The following athletes will fence for positions in the table of 64 in these events on Monday:
Jake Hoyle (New York City, N.Y.)
Dennis Kraft (Bloomfield, N.J.)
Curtis McDowald (Jamaica, N.Y.)
Jason Pryor (South Euclid, Ohio)
Margaret Lu (Greenwich, Conn.)
Nzingha Prescod (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky.) and Nicole Ross (New York City, N.Y.) are exempt from the women’s foil pools due to their No. 3 and No. 15 world rankings, respectively.
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