Local Fencers Part of Huge Week for USA Fencing
United States fencing rebounded from a disappointing London games with moderate success in Rio, supported by big performances by local fencers, including boundary breaker Ibtihaj Muhammed.
The success was kicked off by Alexander Masialas, who took home a silver in individual foil, which was the United States’ first men’s fencing medal since 1984. Daryl Homer of the Bronx followed that impressive run of victories with a silver medal of his own in individual saber.
Those performances on their own would have been enough to satisfy a fencing team that took home only one medal home from the London games, a women’s team bronze. Despite the fact that other fencers weren’t able to storm their individual events, with Muhammed and Nzingha Prescod losing their bouts in the round of 16 and Miles Chamley-Watson and Dagmara Wozniak losing in their respective rounds of 32, local fencers weren’t finished making their mark on the Rio games.
It started with the men’s team foil competition, which of course featured Massialas, as well as New York’s Chamley-Watson. The two were able to lead the team through a crowded field of strong contenders, along with teammates Gerek Meinhardt and Race Imboden. However, they were stonewalled in the semifinals by Russia in a four point heartbreaker, where Massialas fell just short after Chamley-Watson mounted a large lead going into the final bout.
However, in the bronze medal match, Team USA was able to effectively bury Italy, toppling them 45-31, with Massialas closing out the victory. Italy was the defending world and Olympic champions in that event. Again, Chamley-Watson was huge, saving some of his best performances for the team event. The third medal for the United States was a mark that barely anyone could have predicted coming into the Rio Olympics. It was the first medal for men’s team foil since the 1932 Olympic games. However, the women’s team didn’t want to be left out of the party on the podium.
In the team sabre competition, Muhammed and Wozniak teamed up, along with Mariel Zagunis, and Monica Aksamit to take on the competition, hoping not to be passed up by their male counterparts. They did not disappoint, as they rolled into the semifinal, setting up a similar match against Russia, the same nation that beat the men in the team competition. However, the women lost in an almost identically heartbreaking match, only 45-42, relegating them to a bronze medal match.
Following the men’s lead, the women would take on Italy as well, and their match wouldn’t be close either. The United States women buried Italy, 45-30 in the match, earning them all a bronze medal. On another important note, it marked the first time that an American athlete competing in a hijab won an Olympic medal, as Muhammed was the first American athlete to ever compete wearing one.
Those four medals, the two individual and two team medals, were all huge for a program that needed a lift after the London disappointment. The team showed balance and poise, taking down big programs, especially Italy, who is traditionally strong in the fencing disciplines. It will be interesting to see how they build on the success moving into the next Olympic cycle, as the athletes begin to train for the 2020 games in Tokyo.
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