2016 was a year full of record-breaking performances, impressive comebacks and spectacular wins on all levels, from the cadets to the Olympians to the veterans.
As this year comes to a close, here’s a look back at the top moments of 2016:
Down 14-8, Alex Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.) stood just one touch away from leaving the Olympic Games without a medal. Now cue the incredible comeback from the World No. 1 men’s foil fencer. In the quarterfinals on the world’s greatest stage, Massialas reeled off seven straight touches against Giorgio Avola (ITA), guaranteeing himself a medal and eventually earning the silver. The second-place finish marked the first silver won by a U.S. man since 1932, ending a 32-year medal draught in men’s individual fencing.
When it mattered most, Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y.) came though. Winning his first international medal of 2016, Homer brought home the silver in Rio, becoming the first men’s saber silver medalist at an Olympic Games since 1904 and just the fourth U.S. man to ever win an individual medal in men’s saber. Rewriting the record books would require a clutch performance from Homer in his semifinal bout against Mojtaba Abedini (IRI). Tied at 14, Homer went on the attack, earning the decisive 15th touch and qualifying for the finals.
Alex Massialas, the U.S. men’s foil team’s youngest member, was just two years old at the last Olympic Games in which Italy didn’t stand on the podium in the men’s foil team competition. In Rio, Massialas, Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.), Miles Chamley Watson (New York City, N.Y.) and Race Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y.) ended Italy’s streak, defeating the Italians in the bronze medal match, 45-31, and leaving Italy without a medal for the first time since 1996. The victory proved the progress of fencing in the United States as the No. 2 seeded U.S. earned its first medal at an Olympic Games in 84 years.
Winners of a medal at the last five Senior World Championships, the U.S. team, composed of Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore.), Ibtihaj Muhammad (Maplewood, N.J.), Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J.) and Monica Aksamit (Matawan, N.J.), met expectations of coming away with a medal in Rio. The Americans dominated the bronze medal match, 45-30, joining Ukraine as one of two countries to win medals in both Games the women’s saber team event has been held. With her fourth Olympic medal, Zagunis set another first in U.S. fencing, becoming the first American fencer to medal at three Olympic Games and the only U.S. woman to won four Olympic medals.
Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky.) has yet to lose a direct elimination bout at the Pan American Championships. Since participating in her first Zonal Championships in 2010 at 16 years old, Kiefer has now won seven consecutive women’s foil titles, the first time a fencer in any weapon has won seven straight championships in the Pan Am zone. At this year’s Championships in June, Kiefer dominated her competition, her closest bout coming in the semifinals when she defeated Kelleigh Ryan (CAN), 15-9. She continued to control the final, overcoming teammate Nicole Ross (New York City, N.Y.), 15-7.
Breaking last year’s record of 18 medals, this year’s Veteran World Championship team brought home 20 medals from Stralsund, Germany in October. The Americans finished first in the medal count, winning four golds. Liz Kocab (Farmington Hills, Mich.) dominated her competition en route to her third women’s 60-69 epee title in the last four years while Arnold Messing (Brooklyn, N.Y.) earned his first gold medal in the +70 men’s epee competition. Saber contributed to eight of the individual medals, including a 1-2-3 finish in the women’s 60-69 saber category with Jane Eyre (Woolwich Township, N.J.) winning gold. The bronze in that category was the second medal won by Jennette Starks-Faulkner (Middletown, Conn.), who also won gold in the 60-69 women’s foil competition.
The American youth also had a record-breaking year, winning seven medals at the Cadet World Championships in April. Team USA won more medals than any U.S. squad in history at the Cadet Worlds and tied the record for gold medals set in 2006 with three. The Americans swept the foil titles as Sylvie Binder (Armonk, N.Y.) and Geoffrey Tourette (Cupertino, Calif.) both won gold. Binder’s victory marked the first women’s foil title since Lee Kiefer won in 2010 while a U.S. man won the men’s foil title for the second consecutive year.
Columbia proved why it’s one of the top collegiate fencing schools in the country, repeating as NCAA Champions with a 174-167 victory over Ohio State. The Lions are the first team to win back-to-back titles since Penn State in 2009 and 2010, earning their fourth championship since NCAA fencing moved to the new championship format in 1990. They also won consecutive titles in 1992 and 1993. Columbia took collegiate fencing’s top prize thanks to a balanced attack in which the Lions scored 30 points in three of the six weapons and took no less than 24 points in any category.
New Jersey native Ibtihaj Muhammad not only became the first U.S. athlete to wear a hijab at the Olympic Games in Rio, but also played a key role in securing Team USA’s bronze medal in the women’s saber team competition. Challenging stereotypes about the Muslim-American community as well their potential as athletes, Muhammad nearly propelled the U.S. to the gold medal match, winning seven straight touches and 10 total against Russia in the semifinals to give the Americans a lead with two bouts remaining. Leading up to the Games, Muhammad put the spotlight on fencing, being named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential people as well as participating in many TV interviews across the country.
Needing the gold to qualify for Rio, the U.S. Wheelchair Fencing Team’s youngest member, 16-year-old Lauryn DeLuca (Parma, Ohio), earned her first international title at the Pan American Wheelchair Championships in Sao Paulo, Brazil, punching her ticket to Rio and earning Team USA’s sole qualification allocation. DeLuca beat 2012 Paralympian Sylvie Morel (CAN), 15-13, to advance to the gold medal bout. In an all-American final, DeLuca bested teammate Vikki Espinosa (Portland, Ore.), 15-9. She went on to finish 11th in Rio in Category A Epee.
For the first time in history, the U.S. men’s foil program won three Overall World Cup titles at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season. Alex Massialas, who first reached the World No. 1 in November of 2015 concluded the season in the top position after his silver medal win in Rio as well as three gold medals during the World Cup season. The Senior U.S. Men’s Foil Team won four out of five World Cup medals on the circuit and clinched the No. 1 ranking after winning bronze in Rio. The junior team showed the depth of the foil program with podium finishes at four out of six international events in 2015-16.
Following in the footsteps of Olympian Lee Kiefer in 2014 and Sara Taffel (New York, N.Y.) in 2015, Sabrina Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.) won the women’s foil gold at the Junior World Championships in Bourges, France in April. After dominating the first three rounds by an average score of 15-6, Massialas used two clutch performances to reach the final. Trailing by a score of 11-3 to No. 2 Marta Martyanova (RUS) in the quarter-finals, Massialas mounted a comeback, tying the score at 13 and sending the bout to overtime, where she earned the winning touch with 3.9 seconds remaining. In the semis, she once again came away with a victory in extra time, defeating Yiting Fu (CHN), 14-13. Using her momentum, Massialas cruised to a 15-9 victory over top-ranked Erica Cipressa (ITA) in the gold medal match.
After winning the gold in Warsaw in February, the U.S. Men’s Saber Team took over the No. 1 ranking for the first time since 2004. With two golds and a silver at the first four World Cups of the 2015-16 season, Team USA snatched the top spot from Italy, the reigning senior World Champions. The squad went on to win two more medals in 2016, taking silver at the Madrid World Cup in May and gold at the Pan American Championships in June.
One of the biggest upset stories for USA Fencing this year, Anna Van Brummen (Houston, Texas) started the new season with a bang in October, winning the first women’s epee World Cup of the season as the 187th ranked fencer. With the gold, the 22 year old became the first U.S. women’s epee fencer to win an individual Senior World Cup since women’s epee was added to the Olympic program in 1996 and just the second to win gold overall. To make history, Van Brummen had to defeat third-ranked and 2015 Senior World bronze medalist Sarra Besbes (TUN) as well as 2012 Olympic team silver medalist A-Lam Shim (KOR).
USA Fencing’s most decorated veteran fencer, Jane Eyre (Woolwich Township, N.J.), cruised to her fourth consecutive women’s 60-69 saber title at the Veteran World Championships, giving her six individual golds and 12 total World Championship medals in her career. The No. 1 seed entering the tournament, Eyre earned a bye into the table of 16. She won her first two direct elimination bouts 10-2 and 10-4 before easily moving into the final with a 10-1 victory. Facing teammate and former Veteran World Champion Delia Turner (Philadelphia, Pa.), Eyre came away with the 10-7 win, standing next to two teammates on the podium.
After one of its most successful Olympic Games in history, USA Fencing held a five-stop tour to celebrate Team USA’s four medals and historic performances. Stopping in San Francisco, New York, Houston, Portland and Detroit, the Celebrate Rio Tour included appearances and Q & A’s with the 2016 Olympians and Paralympians, fencing demonstrations and opportunities for children to try the sport. Overall, the tour introduced over 4,000 people to the sport of fencing and received media attention across the nation.
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