By Chrös McDougall | Jan. 11, 2020, 12:17 p.m. (ET)

 

Coming off a year in which Lee Kiefer won another world championships medal, made history at the Pan American Games and then married a fellow Olympian, the U.S. foil fencing star opened 2020 by securing her berth in this year’s Olympic Games. She is the first U.S. fencer to qualify for the Games.

Kiefer, a 25-year-old med student from Lexington, Kentucky, earned a spot at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 thanks to her dominant No. 1 position in the senior national team point standings, even with nearly four months left in the qualifying period. Tokyo will be her third Olympic Games.

The Olympic spot also comes with a bronze medal. Kiefer defeated two-time Olympic and 18-time world medalist Arianna Errigo of Italy in the quarterfinals of the Katowice, Poland, world cup Saturday before falling to 2016 Olympic champion Inna Deriglazova of Russia to secure bronze – her second world cup medal in this season’s three world cups and the 19th of her career.

Kiefer, who followed her father into the sport and began fencing at age 5, has long been at the forefront of U.S. women’s foil fencing. She made her first senior world championships in 2009 at age 15 and two years later won a world bronze medal.

She’s since gone on to compete in two Olympics — finishing fifth individually in 2012 and 10th in 2016 — won four NCAA titles at Notre Dame and in 2017 became the first U.S. woman to earn a No. 1 world ranking in foil fencing.

All the while, she’s also started medical school at the University of Kentucky, though she’s putting off her third year until next fall while she trains for Tokyo.

For all of her success in the sport so far, Kiefer keeps getting better.

In July 2019, Kiefer won a thrilling, come-from-behind anchor bout to secure a team world bronze medal in Hungary, following a team silver medal in 2017 and gold medal in 2018. Kiefer was part of all three teams.

One month later, Kiefer completed the “LeePeat” when she won her third consecutive Pan American Games gold medal in Lima, Peru. That made her the first fencer in any weapon to do so. As she competed in Lima, her fiancé and fellow U.S. Olympic fencer Gerek Meinhardt was able to cheer her on.

“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,” said Meinhardt, who won the men’s foil gold medal one day later.

Download the Team USA app today to keep up with fencing and all your favorite sports, plus access to videos, Olympic and Paralympic team bios, and more.

The couple, who met while students at Notre Dame (Meinhardt graduated in 2013, Kiefer in 2017), then tied the knot on Sept. 1 in an event dubbed the “Royal Fencing Wedding.” The ceremony, held at Keene Barn in Kiefer’s hometown, featured a who’s-who of fencing teammates, including Kiefer’s teammate Sabrina Massialas as part of her wedding party.

And, for good measure, Kiefer closed out 2019 by winning a world cup bronze medal in Saint-Maur, France.

Kiefer is part of a big fencing family — her dad having competed at Duke, her older sister Alex having won a NCAA title at Harvard and younger brother Axel having just wrapped up at Notre Dame. In fact, Axel concluded his senior year in 2019 as NCAA runner-up and winner of the school’s Lee Kiefer/Gerek Meinhardt Award, which is “given to the fencer who gives their time selflessly and humbly in training, as judged by their teammates and coaches.”

Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic movements for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.