U.S. Men's Saber Team Ends Olympic Games in Eighth Place
(London) – The U.S. Men’s Saber Team came to the Games with the hopes of returning to the medal rounds after a silver medal win in Beijing, but the team’s medal dreams disappeared after a loss to Russia – the two-time reigning World Champions – in the quarter-finals.
Coming into the day’s opener against Russia, Team USA had posted wins against two of Russia’s three fencers in the individual event on July 29 when Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y.) bested world #2 Alexey Yakimenko and Tim Morehouse (New York City, N.Y.) defeated 2010 Senior World medalist Veniamin Reshetnikov on their way to the top-eight results.
In the team event, however, Russia dominated the first six bouts to build a 30-17 lead.
James Williams (Sacramento, Calif. / New York City, N.Y.), who won silver with Morehouse in Beijing, stopped the downward score slide with a 5-5 bout split with Reshetnikov and Morehouse tied the eighth bout, 5-5, against Nikolay Kovalev.
Homer outscored Yakimenko, 6-5, as the anchor, but Team USA still lost the match, 45-33.
“We felt like we could beat them, but all of us had to be on the best of our games to do it and we just weren’t today. We’re not good enough as a team yet that we can show up with our B game and pull it out against a top-ranked team,” Morehouse said. “Russia’s a great team and we trained as hard as we could and gave it all we had and they were the better team. They’re number one in the world for a reason and they outfenced us today. We gave it all we had and, at the end of the day, I think we’re all proud of that.”
Williams said the unique nature of the Games means that any number of teams could win gold.
“The Olympics is a very special competition. It’s just a one-day event and can be a little bit flukey one way or the other. I wish we had won, but this is sport,” he said.
Homer said he thought the team overthought the match with Russia.
“We didn’t put ourselves in high percentage games. We kind of had a little scare tactic where we thought that they were too strongly attacking for us to defend and all of us are very good defensive fencers. In reality, if you saw the match, we probably were 50/50 when we were going into our deep defense. We lost mainly when we were in the middle of the strip trying to push our attacks too far or landing too short. In that way, I think we just didn’t fence our game,” Homer said.
Although Homer and Morehouse posted individual wins over the Russians last week, Homer said the team event is an entirely different style of competition as each athlete only gets three five-touch bouts against each opponent from a country.
“In the individual, it’s much easier to fence your fencing. You have 15 touches to develop and figure things out and plan things tactically. In the team, it’s pretty much a microcosm of the bout. Any mistake you make is amplified. I think we made a few too many mistakes and any mistake we made was amplified and they were able to capitalize on that, but we didn’t put them in our game. We didn’t fence like ourselves,” Homer said.
After the loss, the team had half an hour to regroup for the 5th – 8th place tables and a match against China.
With Team USA down by seven points after the third bout against China [15-8], Williams brought outscored Man Zhong, 8-5, to bring the score to 20-16, but China held on to win four of the next five bouts to win the match, 45-28.
“The Chinese team fenced strong and we fenced a little bit demoralized. [In 2004 and 2008], we’ve managed to pull off an upset to make the medal round. You’re in the top four at least and you’re fencing for something other than points,” Homer said.
The loss put the Americans into the 7th – 8th place match against Belarus – the 2011 Senior World silver medalists who were upset by Italy in the quarter-finals.
Prior to the start of the match, replacement athlete Jeff Spear (Wynantskill, N.Y. / New York City, N.Y.) was substituted in for Williams. The sub-in officially made Spear, who did not compete in the team event, an Olympian.
The Belarussian squad outscored Team USA in seven of the nine bouts to win the match, 45-35.
“Fencing is my favorite thing in the world and to do it on our biggest stage and represent our country? I’m very proud of that,” Spear said. “I wish I could have done better. I know I could have done better, but I’ll be back.”
Coach Yury Gelman (Brooklyn, N.Y.) said the team struggled with motivation after the initial loss to Russia.
“The first match basically was everything and, from the beginning, they prepared well, but they didn’t fence well. I think it was just a psychological bout. They lost to Russia and then the last two they didn’t have any motivation,” Gelman said. “I think it’s going to be a very new team in Rio. We have a lot of young coming up fencers, but it’s four years. It’s a long time to go. You never know what’s going to happen.”
Homer said that, although Team USA won a silver medal in Beijing, the men were underdogs coming into the London Games.
“To be frank, we had one medal going into this team competition at the World Cups since Beijing. I think we’ve all had very strong individual results, but we knew the team event was going to be a battle,” Homer said. “However, I do think that we have two young people, Jeff and I, who are going to come back next quad and fight for a medal. Right now, it’s just not our time. We had a bit of a gap. The 08 team was extremely experienced. They fenced 04 together as well. They also had Keeth Smart who had 11 touches in a situation. Right here, we all had to fence well and we didn’t do that today. It’s unfortunate and we’re gonna move on from that.”
The team events will continue on Saturday with women’s epee. Courtney Hurley (San Antonio, Texas), Maya Lawrence (Teaneck, N.J.), Susie Scanlan (St. Paul, Minn.) and replacement athlete Kelley Hurley (San Antonio, Texas) will take on Italy in the quarter-finals at the ExCel Center. Competition schedule is as follows:
Women’s Team Epee
10:30 a.m. – Quarter-finals
Noon – Semifinals
3 p.m. – 5th – 6th and 7th – 8th Place Matches
6 p.m. – Bronze Medal Match
7:15 p.m. – Gold Medal Match