The U.S. Men's Foil Team swept the Pan Am podium for the first time in Montreal. (L-R): Silver medalist Alex Massialas, gold medalist Race Imboden and bronze medalists Gerek Meinhardt and Miles Chamley-Watson.
Women's epee fencers Courtney Hurley (silver), Kelley Hurley (gold), Kat Holmes (bronze) and Brazilian Nathalie Moellhausen (bronze) on the podium in Montreal.
(Montreal, Canada) – Team USA was nearly unstoppable on the first day of the Pan American Championships on Tuesday, winning seven of the eight possible medals in the men’s foil and women’s epee events.
For the first time in history, Team USA swept the Pan Am Championship podium with the U.S. Men’s foil fencers won bronze at the Olympic Games in 2016 taking individual gold, silver and double bronze in Montreal
In the women’s epee event, the Americans won gold, silver and one bronze medal as two of the squad’s fencers met up in the quarter-finals.
For Race Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y.), this tournament is where he made his first entrance onto the senior scene, winning the Pan Am title as an 18-year-old in 2011 at his first Pan Ams before going on to place eighth at the Senior World Championships later that season.
Imboden would go on to earn a No. 4 world ranking within a year and qualify for the first of his two Olympic appearances.
On Tuesday, Imboden won his fourth career Pan Am Zonal Championship title – a record for any man at the Pan Ams, defeating World No. 1 Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.) in the finals. Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.) and Miles Chamley-Watson (New York City, N.Y.) claimed the bronze.
“For me, this has been a big competition. It’s been a transition year for me switching coaches and the struggle of finding that consistency again and performing at the level I always want to perform at,” Imboden said. “Coming out here, you always know that your toughest competition is the U.S. guys and to get to the final and know they’re all there and to get to compete with them on that stage, we’re competing with the best in the world.”
Imboden got the day off to a strong start with a 6-0 finish in pools. While athletes ranked among the top 16 in the world don’t fence pools on the World Cup circuit, Zonal Championships are the one international event where all fencers compete in the preliminary rounds and every touch can make a difference in seeding.
“I just usually train for pools specifically a little beforehand and am mentally prepared for it. It’s one of those things that I know is always important at the Pan Ams,” Imboden said. “You come here and you have a job. Here, it’s kind of almost ‘Please don’t mess up. Don’t drop your pool bouts and do what you’re supposed to do. Fence the way you’re supposed to compete.’ I know we’re the top guys and I’m the top guy in my pool and I need to fence like that.”
Indeed, both Imboden and Chamley-Watson finished 6-0 in their pools to take the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds. Meinhardt dropped a bout, but would take the No. 3 seed. Massialas dropped two bouts, but his No. 11 seed put him in the quadrant opposite Imboden – setting up the perfect circumstances for a potential sweep.
After a bye into the table of 16, Imboden earned quick victories over a pair of Brazilians, defeating Heitor Shimbo (BRA), 15-4, and 2016 Olympic quarter-finalist Guilherme Toldo, 15-7, to make the semis and secure his sixth Pan Am medal in the last seven years.
In the semifinals, Imboden fenced Meinhardt – a former World No. 1 who also was going for his fourth Pan Am gold. With Meinhardt up, 7-5, Imboden scored five straight touches to gain a 10-7 lead and closed out the first period at 14-9 after a 4-2 run late in the final minute. In the second period, Meinhardt scored twice, but Imboden picked up the touch he needed for a 15-11 win.
The defending Pan Am Champion and 2016 Olympic individual silver medalist, Massialas fenced 2013 Senior World Champion Miles Chamley-Watson in the second semifinal.
Although Chamley-Watson held a 6-1 lead early in the bout, Massialas fought back to tie the score at nine by the end of the first period. Massialas took a 14-12 lead in the second before Chamley-Watson came back to tie the bout at 14. Massialas scored the last touch to qualify for the finals at 15-14.
Another crucial run would make the difference for Imboden in the finals where he broke away from a tie at four against Massialas with four straight touches to take an 8-4 lead. Massialas came back to tie the bout again at nine. With the score tied again at 11, Imboden outscored his teammate, 4-1, to win the title, 15-12.
“All day I just stayed calm and read what the fencer was giving me. Alex stayed calm and made some great changes. He fenced hard and I think today I got the best of him and made some smart decisions and tried to make the right changes and I think I just made a couple more right changes than he did,” Imboden said.
The sweep marks the first time any nation has won all four medals in an individual event at the Pan Ams.
“I was really happy to see the sweep. We’ve wanted that for a really long time and it’s the first time that’s ever happened. I think that any time USA controls the podium, it’s a big moment,” Imboden said. “To be here and to perform the way I wanted to perform was amazing. Alex is at the top of his game right now and Gerek is fencing really well … I was happy to fence them both.”
The wins come just days after the recent news that all six fencing team events will be contested at the Tokyo Olympic Games when men’s foil and women epee were expected to be held as individual only in 2020.
“I think it’s impossible to tell people how much I think the news about Tokyo will shape the history of U.S. fencing. Right now, we’re the strongest U.S. team. We’re the only team with four fencers all in the top 16 and all of us have been top in the world,” Imboden said. “On top of that, to say ‘Oh you guys are in your mid-twenties. You’re coming into your prime. Let’s strip you of an opportunity for an Olympic medal,’ that was such a bummer for us. It’s our third shot at the Games and we’ve gotten better every time. To have that moment and to get it back, it gives us new life and we’re fighting for something again. We’re charged up and running into Tokyo full steam now.”
The women’s epee podium featured three U.S. fencers with Kelley Hurley (San Antonio, Texas) winning her third career individual Pan Am title after a battle in the finals with her sister Courtney Hurley (San Antonio, Texas). Their Rio Olympic teammate, Kat Holmes (Washington, D.C.) also stood on the podium with a bronze medal.
Both Hurley sisters went undefeated in pools to stay on opposite sides of the draw with Kelley as the No. 1 seed and Courtney in the No. 2 position.
Kelley Hurley defeated Bianca Dantas (BRA), 15-5, in the table of 16 and Josefina Maria Mendez Bello (BRA), 15-4, to advance to the semifinals where she would meet Nathalie Moellhausen (BRA) – the former Italian World medalist who defeated Hurley in the individual rounds at the Rio Olympic Games.
“When I fenced her this time, I just said ‘I’m going to be aggressive. I’m not going to be scared. I’m going to push the whole time. I know it’s going to be tiring, but this is it. You’ve got to prove to yourself and everyone else that you can beat her,’”
With the score tied at seven in the second period, Hurley scored two singles to go into the third with a 9-7 lead. Moellhaussen tied the score at nine, but Hurley slowly pulled away in the final period, scoring three straight touches to end the bout.
“That was redemption for the Olympics. I was just a deer in headlights at the Olympics. I have a good game against her and I usually fence her pretty well, but at the Olympics it just didn’t go well at all,” Hurley said. “So I just did what I wish I had done at the Olympics.”
The created the fourth All-Hurley individual final at the Pan Am Championships in the last seven years with Courtney winning gold in 2013 and 2014 and Kelley taking the 2011 title.
In the previous round, Courtney fenced Holmes in the semis, taking a 5-0 lead in the first period before winning the bout, 15-8, in the second.
The win followed another bout of U.S. teammates in which Holmes fenced 2014 Pan Am bronze medalist Anna van Brummen (Houston, Texas) in the quarters. The Princeton teammates fenced in the NCAA finals as seniors in March with van Brummen taking the win. This time, Holmes came away with the victory in a tight bout that featured 10 doubles with Holmes breaking away on the final touch to win the bout, 15-14.
With a bronze medal secured for Holmes, the final would come down to another tight bout between the Hurley sisters.
Kelley led for most of the first period before Courtney took the lead at 13-12. Kelley answered with a pair of singles to go into the second at 14-13. One more single would be all Kelley would need to win the bout, 15-13, and match her younger sister’s career Pan Am titles history of three gold medals with a third of her own.
“It felt really great, especially fencing my sister in the final match. We can’t wish for a better circumstance than fencing each other in the gold medal match,” Kelley Hurley said. “We were so nervous at the beginning of the day because this competition is extremely important for Courtney and I ... But we couldn’t have done better if we planned it out. It means a lot. It means that moving to Houston and all the training we’ve been doing has been paying off.”
Like men’s foil, the world’s women’s epeeists also received notification last week that their team event would be held in Tokyo – giving the Hurleys an opportunity to return to the podium after winning bronze in London with Kelley training for her fourth Olympic Games and Courtney aiming for her third.
“When I first heard it, I thought it was a rumor and I thought ‘It can’t be true. It can’t be true.’ But then when Kate confirmed it, oh my gosh, if we would have had champagne bottles, we would have popped them and celebrated right there. I’m always going to remember that moment. It was such an important thing for us to be able to have a team and it changes the next three years,” Kelley Hurley said.
For complete results, visit http://fencing.ca/results/2017_panam_montreal/index.htm.
Top eight results are as follows:
Men’s Individual Foil Pan American Championships
1. Race Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
2. Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.)
3. Miles Chamley-Watson (New York City, N.Y.)
3. Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.)
5. Juan Sebastian Unda (MEX)
6. Guilherme Toldo (BRA)
7. Augusto Antonio Servello (ARG)
8. Henrique Marques (BRA)
Women’s Individual Epee Pan American Championships
1. Kelley Hurley (San Antonio, Texas)
2. Courtney Hurley (San Antonio, Texas)
3. Kat Holmes (Washington, D.C.)
3. Nathalie Moellhausen (BRA)
5. Anna van Brummen (Houston, Texas)
6. Alejandra Teran (MEX)
7. Josefina Maria Mendez Bello (ARG)
8. Maria Martinez (VEN)
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