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American Fencers Keep Good Company in Rio de Janeiro

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Team USA kept good company at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro when it tied with Hungary and Italy with four medals behind Russia with seven medals. Anchored by the number one ranked foil fencer in the world, Alexander Massialas, Team USA finished with two individual silver medals and two team bronze medals. Alexander Massialas and Daryl Homer each won silver medals in Men’s Foil and Men’s Saber respectively.

The Women’s Saber team, consisting of Mariel Zagunis, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Dagmara Wozniak and Monica Aksamit defeated Italy 45-30 for the bronze medal. Likewise, the U.S. Men’s foil team of Alexander Massialas, Gerek Meinhardt, Miles Chamley-Watson and Race Imboden, also won bronze defeating Italy 45-31. It is a far cry from the London Olympics in 2012 when Team USA finished thirteenth at the bottom of the medal count with one team bronze medal.

The seventeen member team, which  included 11 members of the 2012 London Olympic Team, are listed in the accompanying graph.  Three members of the team were past medalists, including two-time Olympic Champion, Mariel Zagunis and 2012 Olympic Team bronze medalists, Kelly and Courtney Hurley.

Members of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Fencing Team

Olympic Team MemberWeaponClubUniversity
Jason Pryor Men's EpeeNew York Athletic Club, NYOhio State
Miles Chamley-Watson* Men's FoilFencers Club, NYPenn State
Alexander Massialas *Men's FoilMassialas Foundation, CAStanford
Gerek Meinhardt*Men's FoilMassialas Foundation, CANotre Dame
Race Imboden*Men's FoilBrooklyn Bridge Fencing Club, NY-
Daryl Homer*Men's SaberManhattan Fencing Center, NYSt. John’s
Eli DershwitzMen's SaberZeta Fencing, MAHarvard
Katharine HolmesWomen's EpeeNew York Athletic Club, NYPrinceton
Courtney Hurley*Women's EpeeNew York Athletic Club, NYNotre Dame
Kelley Hurley*Women's EpeeNew York Athletic Club, NYNotre Dame
Katarzyna TrzopekWomen's EpeeNew York Athletic Club, NYPenn State
Nzingha Prescod*Women's FoilPeter Westbrook Foundation, NYColumbia
Lee Kiefer*Women's FoilBluegrass Fencers’ Club, KYNotre Dame
Monica AksamitWomen's SaberManhattan Fencing Center, NYPenn State
Dagmara Wozniak*Women's SaberManhattan Fencing Center, NYSt. John’s
Ibtihaj MuhammadWomen's SaberPeter Westbrook Foundation, NYDuke
Mariel Zagunis*Women's SaberOregon Fencing Alliance, ORNotre Dame
Source: USFA. Returning Olympian *

Over the past three Olympics, Team USA has met with mixed success in terms of the medal count and weighted medal count as illustrated in the accompanying column graphs. The ranking of counties by weighted medal count, where the gold medal is worth four points, silver two and bronze one, is illustrated by the position of a country on the graphs. See the New York Times article for the weighting rationale.

Team USA finished second behind Italy at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing in terms of medal count and medal points. With seven podium finishes in 2008, Team USA kept company with Italy, France, Germany and China.

The London Olympics saw a changing of the guard, with South Korea and China lunging into second and third places respectively based on a weighted medal count. Italy dominated again, as it did in 2008. The U.S. slipped into thirteenth place to bring up the rear in medals.

 

In 2016 Team U.S. reversed its fortunes, winning four medals and ending fifth in the weighted medal count behind Russia, Hungary, Italy and France. 

 

Over 200 fencers competed in nine events at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. According to Google Trends, Alexander Massialas was amongst the top trending searches for men fencers as illustrated in the accompanying horse-race chart. Other fencers included, Yuki Ota (Foilist Japan), Garozzo Enrico (Foilist Italy), Aron Szilagyi (Sabreur Hungary), Gauthier Grumier (Epeeist France), Geza Imre (Epeeist Hungary), Kim Jung-hwan (Sabreur Korea) and Alexey Yakimenko (Sabreur Russia).


Two U.S. women fencers were among the top trending searches for women fencers on Google Trends: Mariel Zagunis and Lee Kiefer. Other women fencers included Rossella Fiamingo (Epeeist Italy), Sofiya Velikaya (Sabreur Russia), Olga Kharlan (Sabreur Ukraine), Arianna Errigo (Foilist Italy), Inna Deriglazove (Foilist Russia) and Tatiana Longunova (Epeeist Russia).


It is often claimed that the Olympic Games and other major sporting events can be used to inspire people to start participating in sport. It is certainly the hope of many fencing clubs around the country after this years Olympics in Rio. According to significant academic research, elite sport, sports people and sports events can inspire others to play sport. It is called the “Demonstration Effect” or “Trickle Down Effect”. But its fair to say that the effect doesn’t work with everyone.

Strategies that use the technique can have three outcomes:
1) The people who are already engaged in sport can be inspired to do a little more
2) The people who have played sport in the past can be inspired to play again, and
3) Some people might give up one sport to try another.

What impact will the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games have on fencing participation and club membership in the U.S. especially in light of the sudden and unprecedented spike in interest in fencing as illustrated by Google Trends global search interest in Foil, Epee and Sabre? Only time will tell!


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