Following the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in which Team USA won six medals in individual and team competition, the USA Fencing Team has grown to become one of the world’s top teams to watch in each of the three weapons.
Since becoming the first U.S. fencer to win gold at an Olympic Games in a hundred years with her podium finish in Athens, Mariel Zagunis has become virtually unbeatable by foreign opponents at the world championships and Olympic Games.
The top-ranked women’s saber fencer in the world, Zagunis was originally scheduled to be a replacement athlete as a 19-year-old in 2004, but she went on to win gold at the Athens and Beijing Games and took the individual world championship titles in 2009 and 2010.
Although Zagunis’s Beijing Olympic teammates have retired, the United States now has three women ranked in the top-12 in the world, including four-time world cup medalist Dagmara Wozniak and Ibtihaj Muhammad, a Muslim athlete who is seeking to become what could be the first U.S. Olympian to compete in a hijab.
Men’s saber fencers Tim Morehouse and James Williams won a silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Games, where they became the first U.S. men’s fencers to stand on the podium since Peter Westbrook won bronze in 1984 in the individual saber event. Although Williams retired briefly to pursue a career in the financial industry, he returned to the sport in 2010 to qualify for a fourth World Team. While Morehouse and Williams have the experience of a past Olympic Games under their belts, 21-year-old Daryl Homer is currently the highest ranked U.S. men’s saber fencer in the world.
Just weeks after turning 18, Gerek Meinhardt competed as the lone U.S. men’s foil fencer in Beijing and placed 10th in his Olympic debut. Now a junior at Notre Dame University, Meinhardt won a bronze medal at the world championships in 2010 and is one of Team USA’s top prospects for a medal in London. Not only does Meinhardt have individual hopes for a podium finish, but he is joined by a trio of U.S. men who will each have potential to earn a medal. Twenty-one-year-old Miles Chamley-Watson placed fifth at the worlds in 2010 and was ranked as high as No. 2 earlier this season. Coached by his three-time Olympian father Greg Massialas, 17-year-old Alexander Massialas become the youngest men’s foil fencer to compete at a senior worlds in 2009 and has gone on to win junior and cadet world titles, as well as a bronze medal in May at the Seoul World Cup, where he was the youngest athlete ever to medal at the event. Meanwhile, 18-year-old Race Imboden has emerged as another key foil fencer to watch on the road to London as the reigning national champion who defeated Massialas in the Pan American Championship finals to win gold in early July 2011.
In the women’s foil, Team USA consists one of the youngest group of athletes at international events, but the team has upset many of the top fencers on the world cup circuit. Seventeen-year-old Lee Kiefer is ranked 13th in the world as a senior and won silver medals in the individual and team events at both the junior and cadet worlds in 2011 and is the two-time reigning Pan American champion. Eighteen-year-old Nzingha Prescod is the reigning junior world champion who, like Kiefer, has competed at the past two senior world championships while only a junior. At 23, Penn State University grad Doris Willette is likely to be the oldest member of the team and brings experience to the young squad as Willette was a replacement athlete at the Beijing Games.
While the foil teams are some of the youngest in the world, the U.S. Men’s Epee Team includes three veterans of the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Teams who have returned for another chance at a podium finish. Ranked fifth in the world earlier this season, Seth Kelsey competed on the 2004 Olympic Team with Cody Mattern and Soren Thompson. All three athletes will be vying for just two slots for London with Thompson leading the trio in the adjusted Olympic rankings after his podium finish at the Stockholm World Cup in May and Pan Am Championship in July.
On the women’s epee side, Team USA’s win at the Pan Ams in the team event held the squad’s lead over Canada in the Olympic rankings. Kelley Hurley was the only U.S. women’s epee fencer in Beijing, but will be looking to compete in London with her younger sister Courtney Hurley. The former NCAA champions have fenced on five Senior World Teams together and have their eyes on competing as members of Team USA on the largest stage in the world in 2012. Having competed against each other for years with Kelley winning their last bout in the Pan Am final in July, and Courtney winning their nationals final in April, the Hurleys are often each other’s greatest competition, but the two still remain close friends.
- Since women’s saber was added to the Olympic program in 2004, Mariel Zagunis has been the only athlete to win gold. The two-time reigning Olympic champion, Zagunis is seeking to add a third title in London after winning back-to-back world titles in 2009 and 2010.
- Sisters Courtney and Kelley Hurley have competed on five Senior World teams together and, after winning junior worlds together in 2008, are aiming to lead the U.S. Women’s Epee Team in London.
- A 2010 Senior World Team member who is now ranked 11th in the world, Ibtihaj Muhammad is not only a podium threat in women’s saber, but this Muslim athlete is seeking to become what is likely the first U.S. Olympian to compete at the Games in a hijab.
- The son of a three-time Olympian, 17-year-old foil fencer Alexander Massialas has made a name for himself as one of the top foil fencers in the world and could follow in his father’s footsteps as a contender for multiple Olympic Teams.
- Miles Chamley-Watson, the fifth-place finisher at the 2010 Senior World Championships in foil, is seeking to return to London – the city where the dual British and U.S. citizen was born and lived until he moved to New York at the age of nine. Chamley-Watson’s is not the only one with British ties, however, as his foil teammate Race Imboden’s mother is British as well.
- Two replacement athletes from the 2008 Olympic Team are top candidates for London. Doris Willette (foil) and Dagmara Wozniak (saber) both travelled to Beijing, where their teammates earned medals in the team events. Will either earn medals of their own in London?
- Gerek Meinhardt won a world bronze medal at 20-years-old, but injuries kept him out of the 2010 NCAA season and much of the 2011 World Cup season. Will Meinhardt return to the podium in London as the first U.S. man to win a foil medal at the Olympic Games since 1960?
- Although the U.S. Men’s Epee Team won silver at the 2010 Senior World Championships and is favored to earn a medal in 2011, the team event isn’t on the program in 2012. With three Olympic veterans among the hopefuls for London, which two will qualify? And will the U.S. men return home with an individual medal?
- In 2008, the U.S. Men’s Saber Team won a surprise silver medal. Team members Tim Morehouse and James Williams have returned for another bid to become the first U.S. Fencing Team ever to win an Olympic gold medal.
- Mariel Zagunis (saber): Two-time Olympic champion and four-time world champion – Beaverton, Ore.
- Ibtihaj Muhammad (saber): 2010 Pan American bronze medalist – Maplewood, N.J.
- Dagmara Wozniak (saber): Four-time world cup medalist – Avenel, N.J.
- Gerek Meinhardt (foil): 2008 Olympian and 2010 senior world bronze medalist – Lafayette, Calif.
- Miles Chamley-Watson (foil): 2010 Senior World Championships fifth-place finisher – Philadelphia, Pa.
- Alexander Massialas (foil): 2011 Seoul World Cup bronze medalist and seven-time junior and cadet world medalist – S an Francisco, Calif.
- Lee Kiefer (foil): Six-time junior and cadet world medalist – Lexington, Ky.
- Nzingha Prescod (foil): 2011 junior world champion – Brooklyn, N.Y.
- Seth Kelsey (epee): Two-time Olympian – Colorado Springs, Colo.
- Soren Thompson (epee): Seventh-place finisher at the 2004 Olympic Games and 2011 Pan Am champion - New York, N.Y.
- Courtney Hurley (epee): Sixth-place finisher at the 2011 Nankin Grand Prix – San Antonio, Texas
- Kelley Hurley (epee): 2008 Olympian – San Antonio, Texas
The 2012 Olympic qualification system is a multi-tiered process. Men’s and women’s foil, men’s saber and women’s epee are considered to be both an individual and a team event, which means that the first method by which the United States can qualify slots is to have the team be ranked in the top four in the world as of March 31, 2012, through the adjusted Olympic rankings. The official world team rankings include results from international team competition events beginning the last weekend of April 2011 and running through March 2012. If the United States isn’t ranked in the top four in the world, then the team can still qualify if it is ranked as the top team in the Pan American Zone (North and South America) that has not otherwise qualified and is ranked between Nos. 5 and 16 in the team rankings.
If the team qualifies for the Games, the athletes will be selected according to the USA Fencing senior team point standings as of April 16, 2012, with the top-three athletes named to the team, and, if the rules permit, the fourth athlete will named as the replacement athlete.
If the team does not qualify, athletes may still qualify individually. In which case, if a U.S. athlete is one of the top-two fencers from the Pan American Zone on the FIE world rankings who has not already qualified as part of a team, then that athlete goes to the Games.
If the United States doesn’t qualify an athlete through either of those methods, then an athlete will be selected from the senior team point standings to compete in the 2012 Pan American Zonal qualifying tournament (April 22-24, 2012, in Chile) and if he or she wins the event, then the athlete qualifies for the Olympic Games
For women’s saber and men’s epee, there are no team events in 2012 and each nation is allowed a maximum of two competitors for each event. Therefore, athletes will be qualified by name through the adjusted official ranking list. The top-12 individual fencers in the rankings will qualify for the Games with a maximum allotment of two fencers per nation. Then, slots will be allocated to the next eight athletes with a maximum of two per zone (Pan Am, Europe, Asia/Oceania and Africa). Within the allocation by zone, a maximum of one athlete per nation may be selected.
If the United States doesn’t qualify an athlete through either of those methods, then an athlete will be selected from the senior team point standings to compete in the 2012 Pan American Zonal qualifying tournament (April 22-24, in Chile) and if he or she places in the top two, then the athlete will go to London.
- Oct. 8-16, 2011: Senior World Championships – Catania, Italy
- March 31, 2012: Conclusion of 2012 adjusted Olympic rankings
- April 13-16, 2012: USA Fencing Division I National Championships – Virginia Beach, Va.
- April 21-22, 2012: Final Olympic Zonal Qualifier – Chile
Athlete Twitter Handles or Facebook Fan Pages
- Mariel Zagunis - @MarielZagunis
- Tim Morehouse - @TimMorehouse
- Daryl Homer - @DarylHomerUSA
- Race Imboden - @Race_Imboden