LONDON – Neon-lit fencing strips and neon green socks did little to brighten the fate of the U.S. fencing team on Friday.
The nation that had produced six medals in Beijing remained empty-handed in London after finishing dead last in the men’s team sabre event. It was the eighth of 10 disciplines to be contested.
For the two returnees who had been silver medalists in this event four years ago, Friday’s result was a harsh awakening.
“It was really tough out there,” said James Williams whose 2012 teammates included his fellow 2008 silver medalist Tim Morehouse as well as Olympic rookies Jeff Spear and Daryl Homer who had placed sixth in individual saber on Sunday.
The team’s first task was to beat the No. 1 seeded Russia in its opening match – and Russia was seeking vengeance after Homer and Morehouse had upset two of its players in the individual sabre event (No. 2 seed Alexey Yakimenko and Veniamin Reshetnikov, respectively).
Homer scored the first touch against 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Nikolay Kovalev and gave the U.S. another one-point advantage on the third touch, but those were about the only leads the U.S. had all day. Russia prevailed 45-33.
“I don’t think we fenced our game,” Homer, 22, said afterwards. “I think we overthought Russia.”
“We rushed a little bit too much,” Morehouse added. “Little mistakes added up. Once we got our sea legs under us by the end of the bout, it was out of reach.”
Less than a half hour later, the U.S. faced China in the classification bracket to determine fifth through eighth place. The match could have gone either way based on recent history, but the U.S. lost by 17 points. Final score: 45-28.
“I think we were still a little deflated after the first loss,” Morehouse said, sporting the team’s chartreuse knee-high socks and matching shoes.
Finally, in the bout for seventh and eighth place, the U.S. faced No. 2 seed Belarus, which had been upset by the eventual bronze medalist, Italy, in its opening match.
Spear replaced Williams, but fresh legs didn’t help, and the U.S. lost, 45-35.
The gold medal eventually went to South Korea who beat Romania, 45-26, to earn its fifth fencing medal in London.
As for the U.S., Morehouse said all three of its matches were hard for different reasons.
“You can’t be on your B Game and pull out a win on the top caliber team,” he said of the loss to Russia. “Then, playing China right away – you’ve just visualized a medal and here you are, going for fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth. The one we [really] wanted to win was the first one.”
To explain how the U.S. managed to go from six medals to none so far, Morehouse compared it to dunking a basketball.
“As a kid, I always wanted to dunk,” he said. “One day, I surprised myself when I did it. Then I thought I could do it again right away, every time. And I couldn’t. It took me a really long time.
“Beijing was a slam dunk for us,” said Morehouse, 34.
“I think of my failed attempts to dunk again afterwards, it’s not that I didn’t have the ability, it was just figuring out how to do it right. The progression is still there even if the medals are not. Every athlete here is capable of winning a medal. We have to figure out: how can the team go from ‘pulling off’ medals to a team that’s ‘favored to win’ medals.”
Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.