The US is entering an historic time coming into London for the 2012 Olympics. Over the last 20 years, US Fencing has transformed from having the fencers that were viewed as easy bouts to having the fencers whom no one wants to face.
A country that struggled to get two Olympic medals prior to 2004 emerged in 2008 to place second to Italy in total medal count: My how things have changed.
The US stands alone in 2012 as the only team to field a full Olympic team (16 athletes). Even mighty Italy couldn’t field a full Olympic fencing team in London.
In April at Kiev, Ukraine, the US men’s epee team became the first US men’s team ever to hold the world champion title after defeating eight time defending champion France.
In Kiev, the women’s saber team also took bronze, where they lost to the reigning Olympic champions, Ukraine, in the semis, but came back to beat Italy in the bronze medal bout. It is a shame that these two medals are not counted in the Olympic medal for this quadrennial, but it shows how competitive the US now is at the world level.
Over the next months, Fencing.net will highlight the US Fencing Olympians as well as some of the international Olympians prior to London.
We caught up with some of the members of the US Fencing Olympic team hours after their announcement at the Virginia Beach, VA North American Cup (NAC).
Gerek, how are you feeling after the long season?
Well, it’s been a real long season! I had surgery on my right meniscus in Jan 2011. It was hard because I couldn’t put any weight on my right leg for two months.
[Ed. Note: While he was not allowed to put weight on his right leg for two months due to his injury with his meniscus, he was not allowed to fence for a total of five months!]
When I finally healed, I was able to physically move, but I had lost my fencing sense and timing. I was excited that I could run around and that I was physically fit, but my timing was off and I lost my strategic feel and feel for the game.
The one benefit was at least I had some time before the first world cup and the start of qualification period for the Olympics. I got so excited training because I could physically move again that I over exerted myself!
When you started the qualifications for the Olympics, where were you in the standings?
I was in the top 16 still which was great, but taking two months off was really hard. I was physically fit after my rehab, but I was out of fencing shape.
Fencing requires using very unique muscles and when you don’t use them for a time; it takes time for them to get back in shape. I was running around because I could move, but I wasn’t doing much strategy in my movement.
What was going through head after world championships?
I have had breaks in my fencing before for a month or two, but nothing like this. I went into the qualification year knowing I had to get some results. I went into my first couple of world cups just moving around, but not being real smart about my movement. My family and teammates had to calm me down a bit to remember to be smarter in how I fenced and not just move for movement’s sake!
I took a year off of school [Notre Dame ‘13, IT Management] so I could train for the Olympics which were great. I knew I had the NACs and four World Cups left to try and qualify. There was lots of pressure and no room for error. Looking back, I really wish I could have a few bouts back where I was up also.
Every tourney I knew I had to fight as hard as I could and I had nights of lost sleep. I had to win everything all of the time.
And it all came down to this Virginia Beach NAC.
Yep, I knew I could only do what I could do. Miles [Chamley-Watson] was ahead in points and if he made the top 8, there was a pretty good chance he was going as the third team member even if I won the event.
It’s crazy to think that after a year of fencing world cups and NACs with thousands of points being racked up, that there was less than 10 points from the replacement athlete to the Olympic shot. It just shows how close things were for all of us!
What is your mindset from the last Olympics to this Olympics?
Now that I know that I am the 4th! HA! It’s a bit different now. I can still do the world cups and I’ll be training hard; but now I can be a bit more creative with my fencing.
It’s hard to break habits when you can’t make any mistakes. You have to be ready at all times. Now that some of the pressure is off, I can try and be more creative in how I make my touches. You can get into a rut because of the pressure to always get that touch, but now I have a bit of creative license so to speak!
How do you feel about the chances for the US?
I’m super excited! We are all great friends and we travel together a lot. Each of us has had great results individually and collectively, we hope to bring home a medal! I just need to be ready for the opportunity if it presents itself.