Gerek Meinhardt during the men's individual foil fencing medal ceremony at the Pan American Games Lima 2019 on Aug. 6, 2019 in Lima, Peru.
When U.S. foil fencer Gerek Meinhardt won individual gold at the Pan American Games earlier this month, the first person he went to celebrate with was his fiancée — and fellow U.S. Olympic fencer Lee Kiefer.
Kiefer, who won her own individual gold medal at the Pan Am Games the day before, was in Meinhardt’s corner coaching him throughout the day, just as he had done with her through her run.
“We were pumped. We’ve dated for the past several years, so we push each other and support each other and are so excited when either one of us does well, let alone when we both bring back a couple of golds for Team USA,” Meinhardt told TeamUSA.org. “We primarily train against each other, which is why it means so much to us when either of us does well, so it was definitely a special moment.”
The couple, who announced their engagement on social media on New Year’s Day 2018, is planning to tie the knot Sept. 1. Both are Notre Dame alumni, Meinhardt having graduated in 2013, while Kiefer graduated in 2017.
Before they walk down the aisle, the couple has been training together on the road to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
That training helped pay off in Lima, Peru, where Meinhardt captured his first individual Pan American Games gold after winning silver in 2015, to go along with team golds in 2011 and 2015. Kiefer, meanwhile, became the only fencer in history to earn three individual gold medals at the Games.
“We’re so proud of each other and what we’ve been able to accomplish thus far, just pushing each other every day to try and reach for more, to become better fencers and better people, that’s so important to us,” Meinhardt said.
Meinhardt, who has competed at the last three Olympic Games, winning bronze with the team in Rio, won all five of his matches in pool play in Lima to take the No. 1 seed and a bye into the quarterfinals. After defeating Argentina’s Augusto Servello 15-8, Meinhardt scored six straight touches to defeat Olympian Maximilien Van Haaster of Canada 15-7 to secure a birth in the final. There, he defeated Chile’s Gustavo Alarcon 15-11 after building a 7-0 lead in the first minute.
“I was ecstatic, it was my third time around at Pan Ams, so it definitely felt good to end up on top this go around,” said Meinhardt, who lives in San Francisco. “I started the day off strong with good intensity and thankfully things came out in the right way.”
The month prior, Meinhardt was also a part of Team USA’s first world title in men’s team foil. Meinhardt had won three silver and two bronze medals in his 10 previous world championships – including becoming the first U.S. man to win a senior worlds medal in 2010 (bronze) and first to win two when he again took bronze in 2015 – before this year, so to finally be able to take home gold was extra special.
“To be able to put it all together and come out with the gold medal for the first time in U.S. history was incredible,” he said. “It was just amazing for us to perform the way we did. We’ve all been working for this for a long time, grew up together, so it was really meaningful for us.”
Now, Meinhardt said he’s excited to take some time to rest and celebrate his wedding.
The quest for a fourth Olympic appearance continues soon after that, though.
The 29-year-old said he’s ready to take the momentum he’s had recently and bring it into the coming season, which begins in October with the North American Cup in Kansas City, Missouri. Meinhardt expects the nine months leading up to Tokyo to be more intense than in the leadup to any of his previous three Games.
“I plan to commit more time to training this year than I’ve been able to the last couple years, due to work, due to classes, so I’m really excited to take some time to rest and prepare myself for the intense training to come, to prepare for the season, and hopefully that’ll include a lot of solid training with my teammates,” Meinhardt said.
“I know it’s going to be a long, tough and competitive season to qualify for this team. There’s going to be ups and downs, so the only thing I can do is keep my head up, keep training hard and focus on each match and doing everything I can and hopefully it’ll end up in a positive outcome.”
That positive outcome would be one where both he and his fiancée bring home a gold medal from Tokyo.
“It’d be incredible if we’re able to put together another solid season, qualify for the Olympics and do well there,” Meinhardt said. “That would really be an amazing result and ending to our fencing careers.”