(London) – The last time a U.S. woman reached the quarter-finals in individual foil at the Olympic Games, Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky.) was a toddler.
With no memories of history to work from – and no knowledge that she had become a part of it even after her fifth-place result in London – 18-year-old Kiefer fenced her way to a fifth-place finish on Saturday.
The result marked the first time a U.S. women’s foil fencer advanced to the individual quarter-finals of the Olympic Games since 1996 when Ann Marsh finished seventh and the best result at the Games for a U.S. women’s foil fencer since Janice Lee York finished fourth in 1956.
A first-time Olympian and the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic Fencing Team, Kiefer established herself as a fencer to watch in London when she won bronze at the 2011 Senior World Championships in October.
The medal win, combined with top-eight finishes on the World Cup circuit and a gold medal at the Pan American Championships in June, earned her a sixth seed at the Games.
After a first-round bye, Kiefer defeated Canadian Monica Peterson, 15-10, in the table of 32 and became the only U.S. fencer to advance to the table of 16 after teammates Nicole Ross (New York City, N.Y.) and Nzingha Prescod (Brooklyn, N.Y.) were each eliminated in the first round.
In the table of 16, Kiefer led her bout against Korean Gil Ok Jung, 4-2, after the first period, but Jung scored eight touches in the second to take a 10-8 lead over Kiefer.
Jung opened the third period with the first touch to take the score to 11-8, but Kiefer fought back to tie the score at 11. The two exchanged touches with Kiefer tying the score at 13 before closing out the bout, 15-13.
“I was so angry… I guess ‘angry’ is the wrong word. I was frustrated with some of the things I was doing… I would attack with my arm up too much and I knew I had to focus to do that.
Sometimes, when I’m tired, I do some actions that I shouldn’t so I just decided to put my anger towards my focus,” Kiefer said.
In the quarter-finals, Kiefer met two-time Senior World medalist Arianna Errigo (ITA) for the first time in individual competition.
Kiefer trailed by two touches during much of the first period before Errigo burst out to a 9-4 lead.
“I knew that the bout with Errigo would go very very fast because we’re both aggressive fencers. I knew I had to keep my focus because it would go really fast and I just made some mistakes,” Kiefer said.
Never one to give up against any opponent, Kiefer scored the next four touches and was down by just a touch against Errigo, 9-8, when the Italian outscored Kiefer by six touches to two to close out the one-period bout, 15-10. Errigo went on to win the silver medal.
“Of course there are things I could have done differently, but I’m still proud of my performance. When she attacked me, some of my counter attacks weren’t great,” Kiefer said. “The distance I felt like could have been adjusted better. But I really think I did well against her, though, because she’s a really good fencer.”
As one of the event’s youngest fencers, Kiefer said she knows there will be more Games to come, but that she was hoping for a podium finish.
“I thought if I fenced really well I had a chance, but I’m really happy with my performance. I thought I fenced well and that’s what I came here to do,” Kiefer said. “You know a lot of athletes get injured or find other things to do and I just want to keep being motivated and staying strong. I got third at the World Championships last season and that gave me more confidence that I’ve got a better chance of doing this. I’m not at my full potential and I know there’s stuff I can still work on, so it’s good to have that potential for the next quad.”
Fencing for the first time on television that was aired live on MSNBC in the United States, Kiefer found out after the match that Twitter was abuzz with talk of her run at the podium.
“I just know so many of my friends and family here and back in the States are so excited for me. They’re telling everyone, they’re watching. I’m just happy I’m putting on a good show for them,” she said.
Earlier in the day, Kiefer’s teammate Nzingha Prescod (Brooklyn, N.Y.) finished xx after a loss her bout in the table of 32.
Nineteen-year-old Prescod, the 2011 Junior World Champion, fenced three-time Senior World individual medalist Aida Mohamed (HUN) in the table of 32.
“She’s not the ideal opponent. She’s really experienced. She’s been around a really really long time – ever since I was born. She’s really strong with her hand. I tried to use my mobility to tire her out… but I think I rushed too much in the beginning,” said Prescod.
Indeed, Mohamed built a 4-0 lead and Prescod was never able to catch up as she ultimately fell to the Hungarian, 15-10.
“I could have had more control in the beginning. I usually have problems in the beginning of my bout where I’ll just make a lot of mistakes in the very beginning and then in the end, when there’s a lot of pressure to catch up, I feel like I respond very well to that and I feel like that’s what happened,” Prescod said.
Like her teammates, Ross also was competing in her first Olympic Games and had a bye into the table of 32.
The 2010 NCAA Champion was training partners with Ines Boubakri (TUN) in 2009 when Ross was studying abroad in France and, although the two have never fenced in competition, they were familiar with each other.
With the score tied at eight in the second period, Boubakri picked up seven straight touches to win the bout, 15-8. Ross finished the day in 25th place.
“I’m disappointed about how it went. I’ve fenced Ines many times in my life and I feel confident against her in general… My point was pretty off, though, and I had some distance issues,” Ross said. “I had a plan going in, but I didn’t feel like I was able to execute it. I didn’t do as well as I wanted, but I’m super excited to be here and it was great to have the experience and
I’m just gonna prepare my mind and body for the team event next week.”
Ross admitted to be nervous on the world’s largest stage, but said she usually thrives under the pressure.
“The confidence that I really wanted to show wasn’t all there. I’ve definitely fenced with more confidence before and I think that’s due to nerves,” Ross said. “I was nervous, but I like being on stage and I like that pressure environment. I’m not really sure what it was, but it just wasn’t really there today, but sometimes that works in my favor for the team event and I’m hoping that’s what happens.”
Ross, Prescod and Kiefer will all compete in the team event on Aug. 2 with replacement athlete Doris Willette (Lafayette, Calif.) The foursome will face Korea in the quarter-finals.
“I think we’ve prepared very well and we can definitely beat them if we fence strong,” Kiefer said.
Competition continues on Sunday with the men’s individual saber event.
U.S. athletes competing include: 2008 Olympic silver medalists Tim Morehouse (New York City, N.Y.) and James Williams (Sacramento, Calif. / New York City, N.Y.) as well as 2011 Pan American Champion Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y.)