Courtney Hurley celebrates after winning bronze at the FIE World Championships on July 22, 2018 in Wuxi, China.
Her teammates call Courtney Hurley “the Kraken,” and far from being a myth, the 27-year-old is living proof of the old adage that anything can happen in epee fencing.
Ranked 35th in the world heading into the World Fencing Championships in Wuxi, China, on Sunday, the two-time Olympian and 2012 Olympic team bronze medalist came away with the individual bronze medal, becoming the first U.S. woman to win a world championship medal in epee.
Wuxi marks Hurley’s 11th worlds and her best prior finish was 11th in 2013. Women’s epee was the first medal round of worlds, with Hurley’s medal providing an exciting start for Team USA.
If the result was a shock to the fencing world, which saw several favorites eliminated in the early rounds Sunday, it may come as less of a surprise to Hurley’s teammates, who have firsthand experience with her mindset.
“Once she gets a sense of blood, she’s unstoppable,” teammate Katharine Holmes said of Hurley after Team USA defeated Russia to capture its historic first world cup gold medal in Dubai earlier this season.
The 27-year-old smelled blood early on in Wuxi. She began by defeating Spain’s Dora Kiskapusi 15-12, following that up with a win over Poland’s Aleksandra Zamachowska 15-14 to advance to the round of 16. Hurley became just the second American woman to make the worlds quarterfinals when she beat Russia’s Tatyana Andryushina 15-13. There, she faced France’s Coraline Vitalis, winning 15-10 to advance to the semifinal.
But that is where she ran into the formidable Ana Maria Popescu, a 2016 Olympic team gold medalist and the individual silver medalist from the Olympic Games Beijing 2008. Though she fought valiantly and kept the match close, Hurley was not able to overcome the aggressive Romanian, who sealed a 14-13 victory after scoring the deciding point with less than a second on the clock to assure her place in the final against Italy’s Mara Navarria, who would go on to take the gold with Popescu earning silver.
The other bronze medal went to Switzerland’s Laura Staehli, ranked 53rd in the world. Like Hurley, Staehli — the first Swiss woman to win a medal at worlds since 2001 — was an unlikely candidate for the podium, but rose to the challenge, notably eliminating 2016 Olympic champion Emese Szasz-Kovacs of Hungary in the quarterfinals.
Hurley’s world medal caps a season that got better and better as it went on. Weeks after the historic moment in Dubai, she captured individual silver at the grand prix in Cali, Colombia, her first grand prix medal in four years.
Holmes finished 10th for her best result at worlds, while Kelley Hurley – Courtney’s sister – was 20th.