BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- She not only won the first medal of the Games for Team USA, but fencer May Tieu also showed the true meaning of the Youth Olympic Games during the opening day of competition.
Tieu won the bronze-medal match over Venezuela’s Anabella Acurero Gonzalez in an 8-7 overtime victory.
“It’s certainly new, I’ve never been in this kind of situation before,” Tieu said of winning her country’s first medal. “I’m really lucky to be in a place where there’s a lot of people supporting me, and I was just really glad to fence as well as I did.”
But some of the most impressive performances at a Games happen outside the spotlight. As the packed crowd in Africa Pavilion watched Tieu advance with a 15-1 victory over Grace Senyo from Togo in the table of 16, little did they know the lengths to which Tieu went to assist her competition.
“This morning one of the French coaches told me the woman from Togo didn’t have a weapon,” said Gregory Massialas, head coach of the 2018 U.S. Youth Olympic Fencing Team. “So I said to May, ‘This girl doesn’t have a weapon, do you mind lending her one?’ and she said yes even though she knew they were in the same pool.”
Each athlete is allowed to use four weapons during competition and Tieu knew she had an extra.
“This was like a Youth Olympics moment,” Massialas said. “This is the kind of thing you see here that maybe you wouldn’t see as much at the Olympic Games. This is what makes this such a unique event and one that I really support. I hope that it continues to grow and that the USOC continues to support it.”
Tieu didn’t think much of the act of good sporting spirit.
“Fencing is a social sport and we just like to help each other out,” Tieu said.
But the loaned equipment did create an unusual sight for Tieu during competition.
“My blade had red, white and blue tape, so I actually saw that pointing at me and kind of chuckled,” Tieu said.
Tieu’s teammate Robert Vidovszky found himself in the daunting position of competing against the home crowd favorite, Matias Rios, from Argentina in the first round.
But Vidovszky wasn’t without his own cheering section.
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“I could hear my teammates screaming my name and cheering for me, it was great,” Vidovszky said. “During the first bout, I was up against the guy from Argentina and this is his home country and the crowd was really loud, so I tried to block that out and listen for my teammates.”
For Vidosvszky’s teammate Kenji Bravo, he knows the value in having supportive teammates.
“When you are fencing it is really intense, and you just want to know that people have your back who want you to win,” Bravo said. “When you see people cheering you on, it fuels you to want to fence better. We just want our teammates to know we are here and feel our support.”
There are six U.S. fencers competing at the Youth Olympic Games this week. And while fencing is primarily an individual sport – especially with each athlete competing in a different event – the team and familial bond is evident amongst them.
“It is awesome getting to know my teammates,” said fencer Emily Vermuele. “They’re all obviously top fencers and I’ve heard of them for a long time, so it’s so cool to hang out with people that I’ve admired and find out that they’re really good people. I think we’re a close team and we’re all having a lot of fun.”
For the fencers, it’s not only the competition on the piste.
“It’s really easy for fencers to become friends,” Bravo said. “We’re all going through the same thing and we bond over how much school we have to miss and how stressed out we are. We all go through the same stress with homework and college recruitment. We have a really great team on this trip and we all get along.”