World No. 1 Gerek Meinhardt. Photo Credit: Nicole Jomantas
Gerek Meinhardt and Coach Greg Massialas. Photo Credit: Greg Massialas
(Colorado Springs, Colo.) – Two-time Olympian Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.) made history this week when he became the first U.S. foil fencer to earn the No. 1 world ranking.
Meinhardt, who won bronze in the individual competition at the Paris World Cup on Saturday, passed 2011 Senior World Champion Andrea Cassara (ITA) to move from No. 2 to No. 1.
"Earning the No. 1 ranking is an amazing feeling. I would not be here without the constant support and confidence that I have received from my family, coaches, and friends over the past several years despite numerous setbacks,” Meinhardt said. “I love the sport of fencing, and it is both humbling and a dream come true to have reached the top of the sport’s rankings. Our U.S. men’s foil team has been improving year by year and this is just another sign of our strong presence on the senior international circuit.”
In addition to winning bronze in Paris, Meinhardt’s ranking includes three medals on the World Cup circuit from last season as well as points received from winning the Pan American Championship title and placing in the top 16 at the Senior Worlds.
The achievement comes as the latest in a string of successes for the 23-year-old.
At 18, Meinhardt became competed at the Olympic Games in Beijing where he became the youngest U.S. athlete ever to fence at any Olympic Games. Two years later, he went on to win bronze at the 2010 Senior World Championships – a first for a U.S. man in any weapon. As he was preparing for the next World Cup season, however, Meinhardt injured his knee and would spend much of 2011 in rehab.
“There were times during the long recovery from my third knee surgery that the horizon did not look so bright, but my enjoyment of the sport and desire to improve helped me over the hump,” said Meinhardt who went on to qualify as a member of the 2012 Olympic Team where the squad finished fourth.
While most of the top-ranked fencers in the world compete full time, Meinhardt balances training and competing around the world with fencing in his final year of eligibility at Notre Dame where he is pursuing his MBA.
“Balancing both my academic and athletic goals has always been important to me, and, as such, I have had a lot of practice juggling it all over the course of my fencing career,” Meinhardt said. “Crucial to my success with it all have been the good time management habits that my parents engrained in me at a young age. I love my coaches and team at Notre Dame, as well as the whole Notre Dame community, which has made my experience juggling it all very enjoyable.”
Although many would find the time constraints of pursuing a master’s degree to be detrimental to training for a third Olympic Team, Meinhardt said that the opposite has been true. While the coursework is intense and difficult, remaining in school while training will keep him on track for a career in business after the Rio Games.
“There were times when it seemed less likely that I would be in it for Rio given my history of injuries, but everything started to line up the past couple of years. Getting accepted into the two-year MBA program at Notre Dame has allowed me to advance my academic and business career goals while still continuing to pursue my passion for fencing,” Meinhardt said.
In addition to his individual results, Meinhardt has been instrumental in the success of the U.S. Men’s Foil Team which was ranked No. 1 at the end of the 2012-2013 season – a result that gave them the Overall World Cup title that was awarded in Paris in November.
“The team is looking great. We had a monumental season lst year winning the FIE World Cup title and look to build upon that success this year. There are a lot of strong teams that will be competing for the title this season, and we are excited to be contenders again,” said Meinhardt who won silver with Team USA at the 2013 Senior Worlds and bronze in the team competition in Paris on Sunday.
“Our results this weekend got us off to a strong start to the season. I was happy to get on the podium in the individual event but also know that there is a lot of room for improvement looking forward to the rest of the season,” Meinhardt said. “In team, we faced a tough French team with a passionate home crowd behind them and a lot of motivation to beat us given recent matches. They fenced great and had an edge on us. However, I was very proud of how my teammates bounced back after the loss to France and defeated Russia to continue our streak of medals dating back to the beginning of last season.”
While Meinhardt is excited to have reached a new level in his fencing career, he was quick to note that success in Rio is his long-term goal.
“I approach the season one tournament at a time and each tournament one bout a time. My priority is to keep improving and getting stronger over the next couple of seasons as we approach Rio 2016. The most important thing for me is to stay healthy and focused on my long-term goals,” he said.