The qualification process for the London 2012 Olympic Games was a battle for fencer Kelley Hurley.
Nothing came easy. Her confidence took a beating as the process endured until finally, in the last qualifying tournament, she earned her ticket to the Games.
“It actually all came down to one bout, which is kind of crazy pressure,” recalled Hurley, who competes in epee.
This time, the script has flipped. In the year before the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Hurley, 27, is fencing well, accumulating points and feeling her confidence rise.
She recently returned from a grand prix event in Rio in which she earned a bronze medal, her first grand prix podium finish. In a world cup event in South Africa in early May, she finished in the top 16 (12th). In April she won a silver medal at the Pan American Championships in Chile (and helped the U.S. team to gold). And in March, she won a record-tying fourth Division I national championship in epee, a victory she says set the tone for what has so far been a strong season.
This time, Hurley is feeling confident she can make the Olympic roster.
“I don’t want to say guarantee, because I don’t like to use that word, but it would be hard for me not to go the Olympics at this point,” she said from Houston, where she trains with her sister, Courtney, and coach Andrey Geva. “Something crazy would have to happen, so qualification is looking really good. I can’t explain how happy I am because the last Olympic qualification period for 2012 was such a nightmare. This is just so … nice.”
If she can win a roster spot, this would be her third Olympic Games, following Beijing in 2008 and London, where she earned a bronze medal as part of the U.S. women’s epee team.
Earning a bronze at the recent grand prix event didn’t come without challenges, however. A scheduling glitch in the Round of 64 after pool competition caused a complete last-minute reshuffling of matchups and times that Kelley says gave her “a bit of a panic attack.” Yet it certainly didn’t faze her.
In the Round of 32 she defeated Germany’s Britta Heidemann, a gold and silver medalist at the past two Olympic Games. She trailed Heidemann 12-9 at one point before rallying to win 15-14. In her next bout she defeated Lauren Rembi of France 13-11. Rembi earlier had beaten Hurley in a pool bout. In the quarterfinals, Hurley again staged a comeback victory over No. 1-ranked Emese Szasz of Hungary, building a quick 8-3 lead before winning 15-13.
Hurley’s run finally came to an end in the semifinals, when she lost to France’s Coraline Vitalis — the eventual silver medalist — 15-10.
Points In Her Favor
|Kelley Hurley (R) stands on the podium at the 2015 Rio de Janeiro Epee Grand Prix on May 25, 2015 in Rio de Janeiro.
Hurley points to a couple of factors for her surge in 2015.
One has been the move to Houston. There, she and Courtney have been working one-on-one with Geva and getting in a stream of bouts with the large number of high-quality fencers in the Houston area.
“I really think that’s a huge reason for my sudden success,” she said. “Just working and understanding my style and my game and what I’m doing out there, and also perfecting some of my moves with Andrey.”
The other is confidence. Success is breeding success.
After her recent strong performances, Hurley felt much more relaxed going into the grand prix event at Rio. Confidence also is something Geva has tried to help instill in her. For her, it’s not something that comes naturally.
“Every match I come up against, the first thing I think is, ‘I’m probably not going to win this,’” she said. “And he gets almost angry at me and says, ‘You can beat anybody. You just have to believe in yourself. You have to realize you can beat anybody out there at any time.’ …
“That’s probably the one thing that really is a huge factor in my game (right now) is confidence.”
Yet Hurley — currently ranked No. 20 in the world in epee — has had more than her share of success.
Coached by her father, Bob, she and Courtney have been fencing in national events since they were kids. At 17, Kelley made the 2008 Olympic team. She then went on to Notre Dame, where she won four national collegiate championships.
She says all that experience is something vitally important to her.
“I’ve seen almost every situation that can come up,” she said.
Now she’s on track to make a third Olympic team, which would earn her another trip to Rio, a city where she’s competed many times through the years.
While there for the grand prix, she didn’t get a chance to see much of what the Brazilians are doing to prepare for the Games. The trip was quick, and almost all of her time was spent preparing or competing. But she did get a sense that perhaps the residents are starting to get excited about being Olympic hosts.
“There were a lot of volunteers that were at the (grand prix), and everyone was so happy and excited and super nice,” she said. “I never felt so welcomed, so I think they’re definitely trying to prepare. That was really nice to see how happy and positive everyone was.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written to TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.