(Moscow, Russia) – Team USA won three medals in the men’s and women’s foil events at the Senior World Championships in Moscow on Tuesday – tying the previous record for most medals won in a day by a USA Fencing Team at a Senior Worlds.
The trio of medals were won by London Olympians Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.), Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.) and Nzingha Prescod (Brooklyn, N.Y.).
Massialas and Meinhardt won silver and bronze, respectively, in the men’s event and Prescod earned bronze in the women’s competition – making her the first African American woman to win an individual Senior World medal. The men’s victories also would mark the first time two U.S. men’s fencers in any weapon have stood on the same podium for an individual event at a Senior World Championships.
In addition, USA Fencing is in prime position to break its previous record of winning four medals at a Senior World Championships, set with four women’s saber medals in 2006, including a gold-silver-bronze individual series of results and a silver in the team event that year.
At 22-years-old, Prescod was the youngest fencer in the women’s top four while 22-year-old Massialas and 25-year-old Meinhardt were both the youngest athletes in the top eight.
Massialas, a four-time Junior World Champion, began the tournament ranked among the top six in the world and dispatched Moritz Hinterseer (AUT), 15-4, in his opening bout.
In the table of 32, Massialas drew British fencer Richard Kruse and, with the score tied at nine after the second period, went on a 6-2 run to win the bout, 15-11.
Massialas needed just under three minutes to defeat his table of 16 opponent – Haiwei Chen – by a 15-6 score.
In the quarter-finals, Laurence Halsted (GBR) jumped out to a 5-0 lead and Massialas spend most of the first period trying to do damage control as he ultimately cut Halsted’s lead to 10-8 with four straight touches to close the period.
“I didn’t feel ready. I had some equipment snafus and wasn’t in the right state of mind. I was actually wearing Miles’s underarm protector because mine was gone and, little did we know, Nzingha was wearing it in the bout before, so that’s why it was gone,” Massialas laughed. “I guess I was just a little bit dazed and started rushing things, not thinking too much. He hit me on like three straight attacks that should not have ever hit me. But, once I was down, 5-0, and then, 7-2, my dad said to just sit down, focus, fence elegantly with good posture and good position and don’t get psyched out. And I knew I could come back.”
And come back he did. In the second period, Massialas outscored Halsted, 7-2 to win the bout and secure his first individual Senior World medal.
“I had a good feeling the whole day. I got like 10 hours of sleep the night before, so I was feeling fresh when I went to breakfast. Everything just felt right today. I got to the venue and was really relaxed. I listened to some music and warmed up. I was just trying to feel the rhythm, basically,” Massialas said. “At the beginning of the day, I saw myself on the medal stand, but it’s still a fight to get there. You can think about all these different things, but, until you actually do it, it really means nothing. I really needed to come out and fence well so I could at least validate my ideas.”
Like Massialas, Meinhardt was exempt from pools and preliminary rounds due to his top-16 world ranking and opened the day with a fast win against Petar Files (CRO) at 15-5 in the table of 64.
Meinhardt cruised through the table of 32 where he decimated Eli Schenkel (CAN), 15-1, to move on to the table of 16 against 2014 Senior World Champion Alexey Cheremisinov – the Russian who kept Meinhardt off the podium with a heartbreaking defeat in the quarter-finals of the 2014 Senior Worlds. This time, with the bout tied at five after the first minute, Meinhardt spent the next 65 seconds racking up 10 touches and holding Cheremisinov to two for a 15-7 win.
“That was the first time I’ve fenced him since last year. I got off to a slow start with him last year and wasn’t able to make it up, so I made up for that by starting early this year,” Meinhardt said. “He’s a great fencer and I was really happy to have won that bout.”
With just one opponent standing between Meinhardt and his second individual Senior World medal, Meinhardt racked up a 12-5 lead against five-time Senior World Champion Peter Joppich (GER) and finished the first-period win at 15-10.
In the semifinals, Massialas fenced Artur Akhmatkzhun – the Russian who won silver behind Miles Chamley-Watson (New York City) in 2013.
The bout would be fast-paced with the two fencers scoring 25 touches in less than 90 seconds as Massialas advanced to the gold medal final at 15-11.
In the other semi, Meinhardt would take on 2008 Olympic silver medalist Yuki Ota (JPN). After coming back from a 5-1 deficit early in the bout, Meinhardt cut Ota’s lead to 9-8. Ota went on a tear, however, and scored six of the next seven touches to defeat Meinhardt, 15-9.
“I had a pretty tough season so I went into this with even more motivation to just fight hard and give it my all. I was able to get ahead early in several of my bouts and continue fighting and put it away, so I was happy to get back on the podium,” said Meinhardt. “I wish I could have won that semifinal so our team would have secured the gold medal regardless of whether Alex or I won it. But it was great being up there with Alex and enjoying that medal.”
When Massialas moved on to the finals against Ota, he quickly discovered that the Japanese fencer was well-prepared for his opponent.
“It was tough. He was landing a lot of big flicks that I expected that a lot of times to not go off, but he was landing everything. He studied up on me. I did watch him too, but I think he was really prepared and I wasn’t able to adapt like I should have,” Massialas said. ““He hit me on a lot of remises of the attack. I tried to hold my blade a little bit after I got the parry, so I could see where we wanted to counterattack or close out, but he was so fast coming off that I was better off going right away with the parry-riposte instead of holding it and trying to see where he could go because he was able to block me out. So that and, on the attack, he hit me too many times with the same kind of parry-riposte and I wasn’t changing the timing as much as I should have.”
Although Massialas has won World Cup and Grand Prix titles, Thursday marked his major individual breakthrough at the Senior Worlds.
“It’s an amazing inspiration. The fact that I was able to get to second at the World Championships the year before Rio, it proves that I can put it together on the big day even at the senior level. If I was going to win a silver medal today, hopefully that means that next year, in Rio, I’ll also be able to be on the podium and, hopefully, get a gold,” said Massialas whose best previous individual finish at a Senior Worlds was 11th in 2013. “It feels like I’ve been validated because so many times I’ve gone out in the 32 or, my first two years I was out in the 64. So it just feels really good to know that all the hard work’s paid off and that I am truly able to put it together on a big day such as today.”
Meinhardt and Massialas will fence in the team competition beginning on Saturday where they will join Chamley-Watson, who lost a battle against Joppich by a 15-12 score in the table of 64, and teammate Race Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y.) who is ranked No. 1 in the world, but finished ninth at this tournament. Imboden earned commanding wins over Ukraninans Rostyslav Hertsky and Andrii Pogrebniak in his first two bouts of the day, but lost his third to 2012 Olympic Champion Sheng Lei (CHN).
“We’re all fencing great. All of us are very motivated to get on the podium. We’re coming off a better second half of the season and we all know we have the potential to get on the podium and to win and we’re all really excited,” Meinhardt said.
A former Junior and Cadet World Champion, Prescod qualified for her first Senior World Team as a 16-year-old in 2009 and became the first U.S. woman to win a women’s foil Grand Prix title in 2013, but she came into the Senior Worlds with a string of six straight top-32 finishes.
After a 15-8 win over Anastasiya Moskovska (UKR) and a 15-9 victory against Saskia Lo Van Erven Garcia (COL), Prescod found herself fencing reigning Senior World and Olympic Champion Elisa Di Francisca (ITA) in the table of 16.
"I’ve fenced her a few times, but we’ve never really had a close bout. The closes I think we have has been me scoring maybe 10 or 11,” said Prescod who noted that she took motivation from her men’s foil teammates.
“And I was just thinking about the guys and they almost always have upsets and we never do and I think that’s because nobody ever thinks they could beat these people and I was like ‘You know what? I can do it if I actually put everything into it.’ So I decided that I could win that bout. I just decided that this was going to be an upset and I was really disciplined and smart and kept doing what was working and sticking to that.”
Tied at 10 late in the third period, Di Francisca fought to take a 14-11 lead, but Prescod fought back to be awarded three touches to tie the bout, including one on a red card. During the final exchange, Di Francisca was hit with another red card for covering and Prescod won the bout, 15-14.
"I just feel like fencing takes so much effort. Every bout, every touch is so much effort. So it’s nice that all your work can come together into a medal,” Prescod said. “’Cause some days you’ll have your really good touches and have great energy, but you still won’t win the bout. But you’ll have felt like you fenced well. Today I feel like I had really good touches and that I had really good focus and that I was just taking it one touch at a time.”
Prescod took another 15-14 nail biter against Ysaora Thibus (FRA) in the quarter-finals to guarantee a medal.
In the semifinals, Prescod lost her bout to Aida Shanaeva (RUS), 15-7.
“I just feel like fencing takes so much effort. Every bout, every touch is so much effort. So it’s nice that all your work can come together into a medal,” Prescod said. “’Cause some days you’ll have your really good touches and have great energy, but you still won’t win the bout. But you’ll have felt like you fenced well. Today I feel like I had really good touches and that I had really good focus and that I was just taking it one touch at a time.”
London Olympian Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky.) looked nearly unstoppable all day as the No. 3 fencer in the world won her first three bouts of the day with wins over Iram Karamtete (TUR), 15-6; Seung Min Lim (KOR), 15-11; and Huilin Le (CHN), 15-7.
In the quarters, Kiefer led, 7-6, at the break before 2010 Senior World medalist Inna Deriglazova (RUS) scored eight touches in the second to build a 14-9 lead. Never one to give up, Kiefer scored three touches to stay in the bout before Deriglazova scored the final touch for a 15-12 win en route to ultimately bringing home the gold in her home country.
In the table of 64, two U.S. team members would face in the first direct elimination round. London Olympian Nicole Ross (New York City) faced Massialas’s younger sister – Sabrina Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.) – who is competing as an individual on her first Senior World Team after winning the Youth Olympic Games in 2014.
After a non-combattivity call in the first period, Ross took a 6-1 lead in the second. Massialas scored five unanswered touches to tie the bout at six. Both athletes scored again late in the third, but a priority minute would be needed to determine the winner. Massialas scored first to move on to the table of 32.
Massialas went on to the table of 32 where she fenced 2013 Senior World silver medalist Carolin Golubytskyi (GER) and held an 9-7 lead late in the third. In less than a minute, Massialas scored six touches for a 15-9 victory.
Massialas qualified for the table of 16, but experience prevailed when 2012 Olympic Champion Arianna Errigo (ITA) won the bout, 15-4.
Top eight and U.S. results are as follows:
Men’s Individual Foil Senior World Championships
1. Yuki Ota (JPN)
2. Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.)
3. Artur Akhmatkhuzin (RUS)
3. Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.)
5. Sheng Lei (CHN)
6. Laurence Halsted (GBR)
7. Jeremy Cadot (FRA)
8. Peter Joppich (GER)
9. Race Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
34. Miles Chamley-Watson (New York City)
Women’s Individual Foil Senior World Championships
1. Inna Deriglazoa (RUS)
2. Aida Shaeva (RUS)
3. Nzingha Prescod (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
3. Arianna Errigo (ITA)
5. Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky.)
6. Larisa Korobeynikova (RUS)
7. Ysaora Thibus (FRA)
8. Edina Knapek (HUN)
16. Sabrina Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.)
34. Nicole Ross (New York City)