Richard Kruse (L) of Great Britain fencing Gerek Meinhardt (R) during the Fencing Invitational, part of the London Prepares series at ExCel on Nov. 26, 2011 in London.
Forgive Gerek Meinhardt if the news didn’t sink in right away.
The world’s top foil fencer has a lot on his plate.
He’s in his first year of a two-year Master’s of Business Administration at the University of Notre Dame. He’s captain of the defending national runner-up Fighting Irish fencing team. And he’s riding the momentum of a breakout season following a successful return to the Olympic Games in 2012 in London.
A win at the Pan American Championship, a top-16 finish at the world championships, three medals during the 2013 world cup circuit and a third-place finish at the Jan. 18 world cup event in Paris propelled Meinhardt to the No. 1 world ranking.
The 23-year-old Meinhardt is the first American foil fencer to earn the top ranking.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Meinhardt said. “Obviously a lot of work has been put into it, not just by me but my parents, my family, my coaches, my team. I’ve been really busy and focused on my academics. It’s a really good feeling that I was still able to compete and do well in Paris and that I’ve been able to string together these good performances over the past year and reach the pinnacle of the rankings.”
Meinhardt entered the Paris competition ranked second and knew there was a possibility he could overtake Italy’s Andrea Cassara as No. 1.
“But going into Paris, it wasn’t my goal,” Meinhardt admits. “I was just taking it one bout at a time, what I try to do.”
Men’s foil national team coach Greg Massialas, who has coached Meinhardt since he was 9, shared the news after the Paris competition.
“It didn’t really hit me until I got back to the States,” Meinhardt said. “My Notre Dame family and friends found out about it, my parents and friends found out about it. All of the congratulations for it were really overwhelming for me.”
Considering there was a time Meinhardt didn’t know how much more fencing he had left, he’s just happy to be back on the strip.
Meinhardt had his third knee surgery in 2010 and couldn’t put any weight on the leg for several months. He returned to action in time to qualify as a team alternate for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
“It was a rough first year,” Meinhardt said. “I think it might not have been until the Olympics that I felt like I was fencing really well again.”
Meinhardt had a big bout as the United States rallied past France in the Olympic quarterfinals on the way to a fourth-place finish in men’s team foil. That was the beginning of a big year for Meinhardt and Team USA teammates Miles Chamley-Watson, Race Imboden and Alexander Massialas, who finished 2013 atop the team world team rankings.
Meinhardt is now looking ahead to the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. And he’s got a plan to get there.
Meinhardt, a 2009 individual runner-up and 2010 NCAA champ, hopes to lead the Fighting Irish to a NCAA championship this spring in his final year of eligibility. Meinhardt said the difference between NCAA bouts, which go to five points, and international competitions, which are usually 15 points, helps build focus and concentration.
“Going to five (points) you can’t afford to give up a couple or make careless mistakes,” he said. “You really have to focus more and work harder. You can’t be as creative and take some of those risks, but it’s great practice because there are points in (international) matches you have to buckle down and do the exact same thing.”
This year’s international schedule doesn’t conflict with that of Notre Dame, and the two will keep Meinhardt busy the rest of the season.
Meinhardt plans to continue training with the Irish next year as he finishes his master’s, and he has a part-time job lined up in his hometown of San Francisco so he can start his business career while preparing for the 2016 Games.
“I have goals for myself as far as fencing goes, and I’m very happy with what I’ve been able to accomplish,” Meinhardt said. “I’m glad I have an MBA program and a business career to look forward to as well, but I’m going to enjoy every second I get to fence.”
Meinhardt has enjoyed the sport ever since his parents signed him for a class with family-friend and two-time Olympian Greg Massialas, the father of Alexander Massialas.
Meinhardt, a two-time junior national champion and three-time senior national champion, qualified for the Beijing 2008 Olympics Games at age 18 — the youngest American fencer to ever compete at the Games.
If it all goes according to plan, Meinhardt is excited to use that experience and his recent wave of success to make another run at the Olympic Games.
“That’s definitely my long-term goal at this point,” Meinhardt said. “I’m just trying to take tournament by tournament, bout by bout.”
Tom Glave has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He covered prep and college sports for newspapers in Missouri and Arkansas for nine years and now works part-time in the Houston area.