Members of the U.S. fencing team will be seasoned global travelers once they arrive in Toronto for the Pan American Games.
The FIE World Fencing Championships end July 19 in Moscow. The fencing competition in the Pan Am Games begins the next day in Toronto, with men’s and women’s saber (the team saber competition at worlds finishes July 17).
“It’s a pretty quick turnaround right after worlds,” said men’s foil fencer Alex Massialas, who won a gold medal at his Pan Am Games debut in 2011 as a 17-year-old in Guadalajara, Mexico. “It’ll be tough, but I guess one good thing is pretty much everyone else is doing the same thing. It’s not just me that’s in that boat.”
The U.S. fencers might arrive in Canada a bit tired, but they’ll also be motivated to repeat a 2011 Pan Am Games performance that was the team’s best ever: They won 11 of 12 gold medals, including all six team events in the men’s and women foil, saber and epee disciplines.
Eight of the athletes from that squad, including two-time Olympic champion Mariel Zagunis, are on this year’s team. Zagunis combined with Dagmara Wozniak and Ibtihaj Muhammad to win saber team gold four years ago, and they return together for the 2015 Pan Ams. Zagunis also won an individual title in Guadalajara.
“We are fielding a strong team to the Pan Am Games this year,” said Samantha Nemecek Belding, USA Fencing’s sports performance manager and team leader for the Pan Am Games squad. “Our delegation is comprised of a world champion, Olympic champion, world cup medalists and other accomplished athletes. We expect great things from our athletes in Toronto and look forward to participating in this event as members of Team USA.”
Each discipline (foil, saber and epee) will consist of two U.S. athletes in individual competition, with a third fencer joining them in the team events.
In addition to Massialas and Zagunis defending their Pan Am Games gold medals in Toronto, Lee Kiefer, who is ranked No. 3 in the world in women’s foil, will attempt to do the same. Kiefer, just 20 years old, won the 2011 Pan Am Games championship by defeating Olympic teammate Nzingha Prescod in the final match. They’re both in the individual competition again this year, with Prescod just having earned bronze at world championships. Nicole Ross will join them in the team event.
Kiefer won her sixth straight Pan Am Championships title in April.
Massialas, who is taking a year off from his studies at Stanford University to focus on his training for the Rio Games, and teammate Gerek Meinhardt are both ranked among the top 10 in the world in men’s foil and are coming off silver and bronze medals, respectively, at the world championships. Miles Chamley-Watson, a 2012 Olympian, will join them in the foil team competition.
“The two of them, I think, are going to be clearly the favorites in terms of winning the championship,” said Greg Massialas, a three-time Olympian and six-time Pan Am Games medalist who is the U.S. national men’s foil coach and Alex’s dad.
“Technically, I guess, we are the favorites,” Alex Massialas said. “The goal every time is get as many Americans on the podium. It’s no different here, either.”
In Toronto, some of those Americans who could find their way to the medals podium are likely to be Pan Am Games first-timers. The nine fencers making up the men’s saber and men’s and women’s epee teams will make their Pan Am debuts.
Daryl Homer, a 2012 Olympian in saber fencing, won a gold medal at the 2011 Pan Am Championships but did not compete in the 2011 Pan Am Games. He became the first U.S. man to earn a world medal in saber earlier this week. Joining him in men’s saber are two-time Pan Am Championships gold medalist Eli Dershwitz and Jeff Spear, a 2012 Olympian. Spear will compete only in the team event.
Katharine Holmes, a three-time individual medalist at the Pan Am Championships and 2010 Youth Olympian, and Katarzyna Trzopek will compete individually in women’s epee. Anna van Brummen will compete in the team event.
Ben Bratton, a 2012 world team champion, and Jason Pryor, a bronze medalist at the 2013 Pan Am Championships, will compete individually in men’s epee. Yeisser Ramirez will join them in the team event.
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1990 and was Olympic assistant bureau chief for Morris Communications at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. He also writes about Olympic sports for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. Bowker has written for TeamUSA.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.