TORONTO -- It took the United States more than 70 years to earn an individual men’s foil medal at the fencing world championships. Last week, the U.S. took home two medals in the event at the world championships in Moscow.
Now, just six days later, U.S. athletes filled the top two spots on the podium in men’s foil at the 2015 Pan American Games on Wednesday, when Alex Massialas won gold, defeating teammate and friend Gerek Meinhardt, 15-12.
Look no further than these stellar international results, plus the current world rankings, for proof of Team USA’s recent dominance in the event.
“We are an amazing bunch right now,” Massialas said of the top four foil fencers in the country. “To finish out the season 1, 3, 8 and 11, that’s incredible for any country, let alone the U.S. who years before had struggled to get anyone in (the round of) 32.
“To see how far we’ve come from a decade ago, it’s a really amazing thing to see.”
Massialas is ranked No. 3 in the world, while Race Imboden holds the No. 1 spot with Meinhardt eighth and Miles Chamley-Watson 11th. All four are 2012 Olympians and all but No. 1-ranked Imboden own individual world championship medals.
Massialas and Meinhardt, who also has a bronze at worlds from 2010, earned silver and bronze at worlds last week, while Chamley-Watson struck gold at the event in 2013.
The 21-year-old Massialas' international accolades now include a world championship silver medal, an Olympic appearance, Youth Olympic silver and bronze medals from 2010 and now three Pan Ams gold medals.
“It feels awesome to come out here four years later after Guadalajara and just come out and fence the best I can and win a gold medal,” he said. “It’s a tough thing to do and I don’t know how often it happens at the Pan American Games. Defending gold medals in anything is tough, especially when it’s four years apart, so it’s extra special.”
Though Massialas had to fence Meinhardt in the gold-medal bout in Toronto to earn his win, the matchup was nothing new for the competitors, teammates and friends who have fenced each other countless times in the past 15 years.
Their relationship is one that goes beyond that of other national team athletes as Massialas and Meinhardt both train at the same club – Massialas Foundation – in San Francisco. The club was founded by Alex’s father, Greg, who is a three-time Olympian himself and now a national team coach. Massialas Foundation has produced three Olympians and two Youth Olympians, who brought home a combined three medals from the 2010 and 2014 Youth Olympics, including a gold medal from Alex’s sister Sabrina. The club can now also boast the top two men’s foil fencers in the Pan American region.
“My dad just does a really good job creating young fencers,” Alex Massialas said. “I don’t think there’s any certain formula – it’s the culture he cultivates. From beginner to Olympian, everyone is equal. …
“I think it’s really about keeping everything equal and having no single coach being emphasized more than the other. Some of the other clubs, each coach has their own students, whereas at my dad’s club all the coaches teach the same thing and anyone can take a lesson from anyone. It’s an amazing philosophy.”
Massialas and Meinhardt weren’t the only Team USA athletes to take home fencing hardware Wednesday. In the women’s foil competition, Lee Kiefer won gold while teammate Nicole Ross earned bronze.
The two Americans found themselves facing off in the semifinal, with Kiefer taking the win, 15-5.
“She has a pretty good record against me, but I really admire her fencing and I love her as a person…” said Ross, who rooms with Kiefer on international trips. “She’s basically the best in the world so you can’t argue with that.”
Kiefer then fenced Saskia Loretta van Ervin Garcia of Colombia for the gold medal. But it wasn’t easy. Kiefer had to make up a seven-point deficit in the middle of the first period, but she managed to come out on top, 15-11, to defend her 2011 Pan Am Games title.
“Everyone is coming from world championships in Moscow so everyone is exhausted,” Kiefer said after the final. “I’m just really happy and relieved to finish the season off well.”