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Fencers from the U.S. have dominated the recently completed Pan-American Fencing Championships in Toronto, Canada, winning ten out of a possible twelve team and individual gold medals during six days of competition from June 27- July 2.
While gold in both the men’s individual and team epee went to Venezuala’s Ruben Limardo and Cuba, respectively — preventing a total clean sweep — USA fencer’s won every other gold medal available to them at this year’s regional championships.
Starting on Thursday, Eli Dershwitz fenced to the level his world number one sabre ranking suggests, making it to the final comfortably, where he came up against his more experienced teammate Daryl Homer. While Homer pushed his younger rival to a 15-14 score line, he ultimately couldn’t prevent Dershwitz from completing a hat-trick of wins at this level since 2017.
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In the women’s foil, Nicole Ross pulled off a surprise by winning her first ever career Pan-Am gold after five appearances on the podium, including four straight since 2015. In doing so, she broke the incredible run of nine straight victories at this championship by teammate Lee Keifer, a run which stretches all the way back to 2010. Canada’s highest-ranked fencer, Eleanor Harvey (17) defeated Kiefer in their quarterfinal, 15-13, which also meant that Kiefer slipped down the world rankings to 6th place in the lead up to this months world championships in Budapest. Ross subsequently defeated Harvey (6-5) in their semifinal before claiming her first Pan-American title, 11-10, over another Canadian hope, Jessica Zi Jia Guo.
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There were fewer surprises in the men’s foil, with all four members of USA’s number-one-ranked dream team occupying four of the top five positions. At the top was current world number two Race Imboden, who made it three wins in a row at this level after a dominant (15-4) victory over Brazil’s Guilherme Toldo in the final. Toldo had beaten Massialas to reach it (15-14), while Imboden was too strong for teammate Gerek Meinhardt (15-7). Young gun Nick Itkin finished fifth after running into the in-form Brazilian at the quarterfinal stage, going down by one point, 14-15.
Kelley Hurley continued the gold rush in the women’s epee by winning the fifth Pan-American title of her career, overcoming Venezuela’s Maria Martinez 15-7 in the gold medal match. To get there she defeated Brazil’s Nathalie Moellhausen in the semifinal (15-11) and before that her higher ranked teammate Katherine Holmes, 15-12. Kelley’s sister Courtney, who has won the title three times (’09, ’13 and ’14) exited at the table of 16 to finish 10th, while teammate Catherine Nixon was 9th.
In the women’s sabre, USA achieved its second 1-2 finish of the competition, with 2018 world championship bronze medalist Anne-Elizabeth Stone claiming her first regional gold. Coming up against teammate and two-time Olympic and world champion, Mariel Zagunis — also a six-time winner at this event — 5th –ranked Stone upset her more experienced opponent 15-14. Zagunis had earlier had a walkover against another teammate, Dagmara Wozniak, to reach the medal rounds, while Stone fought off Argentina’s Maria Belen Perez Maurice.
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On the final day of individual competition, it was world number three Ruben Limardo from Venezuela who was too good for a strong field in the men’s epee. Defeating USA’s Chris McDowald at the quarterfinal stage (15-10), he then ran into his younger brother, Jesus, in the final winning by the narrowest of margins, 15-14.
In the teams events, USA’s depth of talent proved too much for the other nations winning all but the men’s epee, which went to Cuba, who defeated the USA 45-38.
The best fencers in the world have competed at their respective regional championships before they converge on the BOK Sports Hall in Budapest, Hungary for the 81st edition of the FIE’s Fencing World Championships to be held July 15 – 23.
With only a couple of weeks before competition begins in the picturesque Hungarian capital, the best fencers in Africa, Asia and Europe have already competed in their regional competitions. Notwithstanding the Pan-American championships starting on June 27 in Toronto, Canada, these have provided a final hit out before what looms as a warm up for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
Here we take a look at the form and prospects of the top-ranked individual fencer’s in each discipline.
FIE Rankings & Points
1. Man Wai Vivian Kong (HKG) – 184.00 pts
2. Ana Maria Popescu (ROM) – 182.00 pts
3. Mara Navarria (ITA) – 173.00 pts
The only current number one ranked fencer from Asia, Man Wai Vivian Kong from Hong Kong had a breakout season this year. She won her first two World Cup events in Havana and then Barcelona in January and February, which took her to the top of the women’s epee rankings for the first time in her career. The Stanford graduate was also a runner-up in Tallin and a defeated semifinalist in Dubai, the last World Cup event of the season. Outside of that, she was fifth at the Grand Prix in Doha but also missed the top 16 on several occasions, including at the GP in Budapest in March, and was ninth in the Asian Championships that recently completed in Tokyo.
Notably, the left-hander lists her rival and world number two, Ana Maria Popescu of Romania as her sporting hero, which if you believe the expression ‘never meet your idols’, may or may not be a good thing. Although a veteran of the Rio Olympics, where she placed 11th, her best result at a senior World Championship is 2014’s 8th place in Kazan, Russia, which may seem like a long time ago by the time she gets to Hungary.
On the flip side, both of her two main rivals, Popescu and Mara Navarria of Italy, are veterans at this level. Navarria is the reigning world champion and despite not adding to her five career Grand Prix and World Cup gold’s this season, has stood on the dais twice including as runner up at the Cali GP in May, where she lost to China’s Sun Yiwen in a tight final. Navarria has also been a consistent top ten finisher, including at the recent European Championships, where she was ninth. Along with her Romanian counterpart, Popescu, she is likely to be looking to add the finishing touches to a great career, starting here on the road to Tokyo.
Outside of this group, France’s newly crowned 12th-ranked European champion, Coraline Vitalis is another to look out for, along with experienced Korean pair Injeong Choi and Mi Young Kang, ranked 9th and 5th respectively. Team USA’s best hopes lie with sisters Courtney and Kelley Hurley, ranked 8th and 10th, although both have had inconsistent seasons, with Courtney’s also impacted by a knee injury.
Despite an injury-hit season in which French world number one Yannick Borel won only once — at the GP in Doha in January on the only occasion he made it to the top 8 — it’s hard to look past the current world and three-time European champion to defend his title from China. Overall, it has been difficult to predict a winner in the men’s epee all season, with only one man, world number two Kazuyasu Minobe from Japan, showing any kind of consistency. He won three times this year, at the World Cup event in Berne, and at the Grand Prix in Cali and Budapest, the home of this year’s championships. Notably, however, outside of a 6th place at the Rio Olympics in 2016, Minobe’s best result at a senior World Championships has been the 22nd he achieved at Kazan, Russia in 2014.
In total, the 31-year-old Japanese is one of only three men to step on the dais on more than one occasion this year. The others being Borel’s teammate, 26th-ranked Alexandre Bardenet, who won in Heidenheim and placed third in Vancouver, and Koki Kano, the 21-year-old talent from Japan who had the exact opposite results — a debut win in Vancouver and a third place in Heidenheim.
The other man with a chance in Budapest is veteran 39-year-old Ukrainian Bogdan Nikishin. Without adding to his six career titles this year, he still made his presence felt inside the top 8 on several occasions, including taking third place at the Grand Prix in Budapest in January. He was also good enough for bronze in China last year and has been a consistent top ten performer at this level in recent years. With Tokyo 2020 likely to be his last major competition, the world number three is still a contender despite his advancing years.
Others to look for include Venezuela’s 4th-ranked Ruben Limardo Gascon, last year’s runner-up to Borel and an Olympic champion in London. Despite a poor season results-wise for him, he knows how to peak at the right time. Korea’s reigning Olympic champion, 23-year-old Sangyoung Park, who won the last World Cup event of the season in Paris, is also someone to watch. Team USA has two fencers in the world’s top ten, Jacob Hoyle (8) and Curtis McDowald (9), who both managed a third-place this year, at the Qatar GP and Buenos Aries World Cup, respectively. Look for them both to improve on last year’s performances in China, where they finished 64th and a surprise 8th, respectively.
Despite hanging on to the world number one ranking on the strength of her win at last year’s World Championships in China, Italy’s Alice Volpi has been dominated by her main rival and world number two, Russia’s Inna Deriglazova throughout the season. Unfortunately for her fans, she has lost all four of the gold medal bouts they’ve competed in this year. Even when Volpi did win gold at the World Cup in Turin in February — her only victory of the season and third overall — it was her Italian teammate, 11th ranked Francesca Palumbo, who knocked out the Russian in the table of eight, a rare blip in Deriglazova’s near-perfect season. At the recently completed European Championships in Dusseldorf, Deriglazova, who finished runner-up to another Italian, London Olympic gold medalist Elisa di Francisca, was again too good for Volpi in their semifinal, adding to the four victories in St. Maur, Cairo, Anaheim and Shanghai. In all, Deriglazova won an incredible six out of eight international competitions she competed in, with her worst results a fifth in Turin and a third in Algiers. Having also won World Championship gold twice — in Leipzig (‘17) and Moscow (’15) — the reigning Olympic champion must be the firmest of favourites to make it three in Budapest. Last year she finished fifth after being upset by France’s Ysaora Thibus in the table of eight.
While there is daylight between Deriglazova, Volpi and the rest of the field in terms of their ranking points, third-ranked Arianna Errigo cannot be discounted. The 31-year-old left-hander is a two-time world champion herself, including at this venue in 2013, and will be looking to at least match her third place in China in 2018. However, she too has suffered at the hands of the all-conquering Russian this season, suffering two semifinal losses to her in Shanghai and Katowice, so she’ll expect to have to beat her to advance.
Outside of this group, USA’s 4th-ranked Lee Kiefer has been on the third rung of the dais three times this season, and despite her small frame, continues to be a strong performer. Her record at Olympic and World Championship level is good too, a consistent quarterfinalist since 2011, when she won bronze in Catania, although this remains her best result. France’s Ysaora Thibus was third in 2017, runner-up in 2018 and will be looking to complete her set of medals in Budapest in 2019. At the European Championships in Dusseldorf, she couldn’t get past a resurgent Di Francesca in the semifinals but will be at the pointy end of this competition, as she seems to thrive under the biggest pressure.
Also worth looking out for is Germany’s 7th-ranked 19-year-old Leonie Ebert, who has taken some big scalps on her way to a first senior silver in Katowice and consistent top 8 finishes this season. Also, take note of Korean veteran and Asian Champion in Tokyo, Sook Hee Jeon. She won silver back in 2009, but has worked her way back into form in 2019.
The men’s foil has been hotly contested all season, with Italy’s reigning World and now European champion Alessio Foconi a deserved number one by season’s end. While he was easily the most consistent, eventually winning twice —in Paris and Shanghai — and standing on the dais another four times, he didn’t have it all his own way. USA’s number two ranked Race Imboden, who first rose to the top of the rankings in 2015, and again in 2018, defeated the Italian twice this season, once in the semifinal at the World Cup in Tokyo, and again two weeks later at the same stage of the Grand Prix in Turin, Italy.
While both victories will give the American belief that he can repeat the dose in Budapest, at world championship level, he has never advanced further than eighth place (2011, 2017). To do so, he will also have to get past the likes of third-ranked Rio Olympic champion Daniele Garozzo, another Italian, and his teammates Giorgio Avola (5th) and the legendary Andrea Cassaras (8th). The Italians have a long history in the foil, often contesting semifinals and finals against each other on the world circuit. Garozzo himself won gold at the Cairo World Cup this year, defeating Avola in the semifinal, and was runner-up to Foconi at the Euros in Dusseldorf most recently.
Outside of this group, Great Britain’s Richard Kruse has put all of his experience to work this year, winning twice — in Bonn and Tokyo — and will be considered a chance to improve upon his silver at last year’s championships in China. He will have strong competition from the likes of 10th-ranked 2014 Russian world champion Alexey Cheremisinov and a clutch of Americans inside the top 20, namely Gerek Meinhardt (6th), Alexander Massialas (12th) and young gun Nick Itkin (17th). Asia’s best prospects lie with Korea’s 2018 bronze medalist Jeo Hun and Long Ka Cheung, the 22-year-old from Hong Kong who was runner-up to Imboden at the Grand Prix in Turin in February.
Primarily dominated by two Russians, a Ukrainian and two Frenchwoman, two-time Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion Sofya Velikaya was imperious this year in the women’s sabre. She won three times in total, at the Grand Prix in Cairo and Moscow, and then at the World Cup in Tunis in May. Although she missed out on a fifth European title to long-time rival Olga Kharlan, (she finished third after defeat to France’s Manon Brunet in the semifinals) Velikaya will be eager to prove there’s life in her ‘old’ legs yet.
Trying to prove her wrong will be her 22-year-old teammate and surprise reigning world champion Sofia Pozdniakova, who took her first career World Cup victory in Athens in March. Ukrainian Kharlan, the three-time world champion (2013, 14, 17) has slipped from the number one ranking this year, but will still believe she can add to her huge list of career achievements — she also has 12 World Cup and an astonishing 15 Grand Prix victories to date — especially after winning her sixth European championship in Germany this month.
Third-ranked Cecilia Berder from France is hard to ignore after breaking through for her third career world cup win in Salt Lake City in January, however, aside from a third place at the GP in Cairo the next month, failed to make the medal rounds again all season. She also placed a disappointing 21st at the Euros in Dusseldorf. Korea’s 5th-ranked 2012 Olympic champion Jiyeon Kim is likely to challenge, having made the dais three times this season — including a silver at the Grand Prix in Seoul — and is experienced enough to have what it takes to medal. Hungarian pair Liza Pusztai (9th) and Anna Marton (11th) should also be considered a chance to carry an upset. 18-year-old Pusztai stood on the dais twice this season — in Athens and Moscow — and Marton won in Orleans and was third at the recently completed Euros.
For Team USA, 7th-ranked Anne-Elizabeth Stone is the best chance of following up her bronze in China last year. She has struggled to follow up that potential, however, with a 5th place at the Grand Prix in Cairo her best result of the season. Dagmara Wozniak (15th) is unlikely to challenge the top ten after failing to make it past the table of 16 all season.
Holding on to the world number one ranking by virtue of his silver medal at last year’s world championships in China, USA’s Eli Dershwitz’s season, although consistent, hasn’t brought the number of victories he may have hoped. Starting with a rusty 17th at the first event of the season in Algier, which he followed up with his only win in Vasovie, Poland, he then finished fifth in his next five consecutive competitions. Breaking the hoodoo with a silver at the season-ending Grand Prix in Moscow, as this piece was being written, he had just taken out his fourth Pan-American championship in Toronto, Canada. While it means the young American has come back into tournament form at the right time of the year, his competition is stiff.
World number two Max Hartung from Germany has arguably had the best season of his career. He has won twice — in Budapest and Madrid — and stood on the dais a further four times, in Varsovie, Padoue, Seoul and Moscow. Notably, in both Budapest and Padoue, he defeated the less experienced Dershwitz, 15-12 and 15-14, respectively. Dershwitz’s only victory against Hartung came at the Seoul GP in 2016, when he won 15-13.
Hungary’s legendary number three ranked athlete, Aron Szilagyi, who is the two-time reigning Olympic champion, will be tough to beat on his home strip too. A runner up three times this season — in Cairo, Padoue and Seoul — his best result at a world championship was the third he achieved in 2013 — in Budapest. Suffice to say the local hero will be determined to remedy that and go two steps better when competition begins on July 15.
The Korean quartet of Sanguk Oh, who won twice this season — in Cairo and Seoul — Junghwan Kim, the reigning world champion and Rio bronze medalist, Junho Kim and Bongil Gu, will all be trying to make it hard for him. Oh looks the most likely, having just won his first Asian championships in Tokyo earlier this month. Italy’s 7th-ranked Luca Curatoli could also play a part, having found victory in Padoue and consistency to his fencing this year.
Outside of Dershwitz, Team USA’s chances in the men’s sabre rest with Rio Olympic silver medalist Daryl Homer, whose ranking has slipped to 17th this year after failing to make it past the table of 16 all season. He clearly knows how to perform on the biggest stages however, having also taken silver at this level in Moscow in 2015.
The 2019 FIE World Fencing Championships take place at the BOK Sports Hall in Budapest, Hungary from July 15-23.
The world’s biggest fencing tournament has begun in Columbus, Ohio with more than 5,400 competitors expected to compete from 48 states and 20 different nationalities at the USA Fencing National Championships to be held between June 28 and July 7.
Already the largest fencing tournament of its kind in the world, the 2019 National Championships, also incorporating the July Challenge, has drawn a record number of entrants to the Greater Columbus Convention Center for ten days of competition across a wide range of age group and divisional events.
Ranging from Youth 10 to Veteran 80 and older across all three men’s and women’s disciplines, competition will run from 8am to 8pm daily, with gold medals on offer in each category.
“We always say there is no off-season in Columbus,” said Linda Shetina Logan, Executive Director of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission. “We’re looking forward to showing USA Fencing everything Columbus has to offer as one of the fastest growing cities in the Midwest.”
It’s the third time the annual summer event has taken place in the region, having been there in 2013 and 2014, and will include some of the brightest prospects in US Fencing, notably 2019 Junior and Cadet World Champion Lauren Scruggs.
“We are very excited to collaborate again with the Greater Columbus Sports Commission on the 2019 National Championship and July Challenge,” said Christine Strong-Simmons, USA Fencing senior director of operations. “Columbus has been a valued partner for USA Fencing and we are looking forward to an exceptional event.”
Other notable athletes fencing in Division I will be 2016 Olympian Jason Pryor, who won an NCAA team title with the Ohio State Buckeyes in 2009, and Oliver Shindler, who won with the individual NCAA epee title earlier this year for the same school. The Division I finals schedule is as follows:
Friday, June 28
2 p.m. Women’s Foil
7 p.m. Men’s Epee Sunday, June 30
2:30 p.m. Women’s Epee
6:30 p.m. Men’s Saber Monday, July 1
12:30 p.m. Women’s Saber Tuesday, July 2
3:15 p.m. Men’s Foil
Tickets for the event are available online or at the door. $5 per day or $20 for an all-tournament pass.
As of the beginning of April, the qualification season for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has begun! April 4th, 2020 is the finish line when the qualifications will be solidified. To kick things off, we’re again tapping the expertise of David Baker to set the table for the qualification season. Over the next year, we’ll be periodically checking in to see how things are progressing.
Women’s Saber Qualification
We can immediately see the impacts of the surprising team results in Tunis. With no Russia in the qualified teams, Sofya Velikaya Velikaya (RUS) takes the first European place following her Tunis gold medal and top-8 at the Seoul GP. The next best placed European is Pusztai Liza (HUN), who couldn’t repeat her Seoul top-8 finish, losing in the last-64.
Some big names in the chasing European pack. We’ll keep an eye on Araceli Navarro Laso (ESP), Anna Limbach (GER), Márton Anna (HUN), and Pascu Bianca (ROU).
After taking out the USA fencers, Marissa Ponich – Fencer (CAN) holds on to the PanAm place but only improves by half a point for a first day finish. Belén Pérez Maurice (ARG) finished in the top-64 to close the gap to only 3 points.
Three Asian teams qualified really opens up the table. The first Asian place is taken by Aigerim Sarybai (KAZ) who finished strongly with a top-32 finish after a win over world number 13 Shao Yaqi (CHN). Taking the second place is Bhavani Devi (IND) who has a last-96 and a last-64 result so far.
Likewise, Tunisia qualifying a team means we have to look past Azza Besbes (TUN). The next best ranked African fencer is Nada Hafez (EGY).
Next up is the Grand Prix in Moscow at the end of the month.
Tunis hosted the first Women’s Sabre event of the qualification season and boy did it throw up some surprises.
World number 1 and world champions France were stopped in the last 8 by Ukraine in a 45-44 thriller but were able to win their remaining placement matches to finish 5th and take the first European zonal place.
Ukraine reached the final by beating Korea but were not able to beat world number 3 Italy who start the season with maximum points. Korea beating USA in the top-8 means that the USA start outside the top-4, meaning there is no room for another PanAm team.
The other surprise package in the last 4 was world number 9 Japan who had an incredible 45-42 win over Russia in the last-8, on top of a 45-37 win over Hungary in the last-16. With Tunisia making the top-16 via a win over PanAm challengers Canada, this means there is no extra place available and thus world number 2 Russia are outside the qualification places as it stands.
It will be interesting to see if Tunisia attend the remaining qualification tournaments – they did not compete the season as a team last time in Rio 2016 qualification.
Two Asian teams in the top-4 means there is room for one more – China’s top-8 result (including surprisingly large 45-22 win over Germany in the last-16) starts them in the qualification places.
No more team events until the zonal championships – but we will have a look at how this drastically different qualification table would affect individual qualification rankings.
Men’s Saber Qualification
World number 3 Max Hartung (GER) consolidated his place with a top-class win in Madrid. Max has opened up a gap between his German teammates, remember only one is able to qualify unless their team ranking improves.
The second European place is now held by Sandro Bazadze (GEO) following a strong top-16 result. Only one point behind is Tiberiu Dolniceanu (ROU) who finished in the top-32. Andriy Yagodka (UKR) is three points behind after a last-64 finish.
Ferjani Fares (TUN) couldn’t get past the top-64, but is still the strongest African fencer by some distance, especially with Egypt inside the top-16 in the team rankings. Likewise, a superb top-16 finish by Shaul Gordon (CAN) has opened up a large lead ahead of PanAm rivals.
Xu Yingming (CHN) didn’t make the 2nd day in Madrid, but his strong result in the Seoul GP at the start of the season keeps him in for the first Asian place. The Vietnamese team weren’t in Madrid, but the six points earned by Vu Thanh An (VIE) at the Seoul GP is enough to keep him in the qualification places. Kenta Tokunan (JPN) is chasing hard with a top-64 result in Madrid.
Italy took first place, but had to survive a scare from Great Britain in the last-16, only winning 45-42. Consecutive wins over European rivals France, Hungary, and then Russia in the final has given Italy a great start to the season.
Korea took the bronze medal, which starts them in the top-4 in the world, and allows another Asian team to qualify. Iran currently takes that place, finishing strongly in 5th after losing to Russia in the last-8.
As it stands, France takes the European place by virtue of beating Germany in the 5-8 tableau following their loss to Italy. The way it looks at the moment, only one of these teams will make it to Tokyo 2020 if there is an African team in the top-16.
A top-8 finish by the United States is easily the best PanAm result. Their nearest rivals Canada had a shock loss to Thailand in the last-32.
Egypt start the season inside the top-16 following a good win over Chile. They will need to do this regularly to stay in contention for the African place at Tokyo 2020 – France and Germany will be watching closely!
No more team events until the zonal and world championships, but we’ll update the individual rankings to see what impact the new team rankings have.
Women’s Foil Qualification
A great top-8 result from Leonie Ebert (GER) moves her firmly to the first European zonal place. Fanni Kreiss (HUN) stays in the qualification places after finishing in the top-32, but there are a number of chasers including 16-year old Nicole Pustilnik (ISR). Note this assumes four European teams qualifying – probably not an unrealistic assumption.
Two Chinese fencers are neck-and-neck for the first Asian zonal place. Shi Yue (CHN) leads Chen Qingyuan (CHN) by virtue of a higher finish in Tauber. The next highest ranked fencer is Liu Yan Wai (HKG) who jumps into the second Asian zonal place with a top-64 finish. Yana Alborova (UZB) couldn’t make it to the second day and is 0.75 points behind Liu.
Outside of the USA and Canada fencers, remains Saskia Loretta Garcia (COL) way out in front for the PanAm place despite a tough day in Shanghai.
Also a tough day for Ines Boubakri Le Pechoux (TUN), losing her first elimination match but easily good enough for the African zonal place. I’m sure we’ll see bigger things from her over the course of the season.
We’ll have a lot more clarity on the rankings following the Zonal Championships and World Championships.
France, Italy, Russia, and the USA have had a fairly tight stranglehold on the top-4 and this event was no different. Russia took the win, beating world number 1 France in the final. Italy won the bronze medal; the USA had to settle for 4th after losing their semi-final to France. I suspect this top-4 result will be a familiar theme over the qualification period.
The biggest upset of the day was a 31-28 win by Poland over Germany to move into the top-8 positions. Japan critically beat China in the top 16 before a heavy loss to Russia (sorry for the earlier typo!). Canada’s top-8 result via a win over Hungary opens up a sizeable gap between the next best PanAm team – if the USA stay in the top-4 then they have an obvious path to the Olympic Games.
I don’t expect any African team to challenge for the top-16, so we most likely will have an extra place available. That place is currently held by South Korea but we have a long way to go!
The next event for Women’s Foil Teams are the Zonal Championships followed by the World Championships in Budapest.
Men’s Foil Qualification
After the first Men’s Foil world cup two weeks ago in St Petersburg – they moved swiftly on to the first Grand Prix of the qualification season. With Russia starting the season outside of the team qualification places there is only room for one Russian fencer – and that is Timur Safin (RUS) who won the bronze medal.
The second European place is still held by 2008 Olympic Champion Benjamin Kleibrink (GER), who added to his bronze in St Petersburg with a solid top-32 finish. Further back in the European places is Michał Siess (POL), who kept up the pace also finishing in the top-32, and Klod Younes (UKR) who didn’t make it to the second day.
With three Asian teams in the team qualification places (Hong Kong, South Korea, China), the next fencer will almost certainly be from Japan. As it stands, that place is taken by 伊藤琢磨 Takuma Ito (JPN) who had a top-32 finish – only stopped by Erwann Le Pechoux (FRA).
With a superb pool result taking him straight to the second day, Sholto Douglas (AUS) currently sits in the second Asian zonal place.
The next best African fencer outside of Egypt is Mohamed Samandi (TUN) who escaped the pools but lost his preliminary-128 match. Likewise, the best PanAm fencer outside of the USA and Brazil is Augusto Servello who also finished in the preliminary-128 table.
Next stop Zonal Championships and then the World Championships.
Whilst it was almost “business as usual” in the Women’s Foil, the Men have had a much more interesting start to the season.
Some things don’t change though – the USA keep up their good form from Cairo in March to win the first event of the season.
Likewise, a solid top-8 result from Egypt confirms that they both have the African zonal place sewn up and probably have the quality to stay in the top-16.
The Brazilian team is also celebrating that result from the USA, on top of a great win over Japan in the 9-16 table which has opened up a small gap with Canada. This will probably be very close – remember for Rio 2016 these Brazil and Canada were TIED at the end of the qualification season (Brazil qualified because of their Zonal silver).
Joining the USA on the finals podium was Hong Kong, incredibly beating China, Italy and France to win the silver medal. Two Asian teams in the top-4 means that another zonal place is available, currently held by China but Japan will be looking to make amends for a fairly average start to the race.
But the reason that Japan were in the 9-16 table at all was for another incredible upset: 45-36 defeat by Great Britain. Team GBR look to be materially strengthened by the return of Richard Kruse to the team and are certainly a dark horse in the race at a minimum.
Only one European team in the top-4 means only one more can qualify. That’s currently Italy, but it’s anyone’s game with powerhouse Russia lurking, and Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Poland, and Ukraine all in the points.
As with the Women, that’s it for the team events until the European Championships in Düsseldorf.
Women’s Epee Qualification
Popescu Ana-Maria (ROU) has added a top-8 finish to her bronze medal in Cali and has opened up a substantial lead for the first European place. A mirror image of this result (top-8 Cali, bronze Dubai) from Vivian Kong 江旻憓 (HKG) likewise puts her a long way ahead of her competitions – although note that this is with two Asian teams qualified.
France starting outside the qualification places means there is only room for Auriane Mallo (FRA) to take the second European place, following a top-8 finish in Dubai. Auriane is 14 points ahead of a chasing “hat-trick” of French fencers – they’ll be looking to improve their team performance so they can all be in Tokyo 2020.
Sarra Besbes (TUN) couldn’t replicate the magic we saw in Cali, not being able to get through to the second day after a loss in the top-96 to returning superstar Xu Anqi (CHN). Xu won team gold in London 2012 and as far as I can tell hasn’t fenced an FIE competition since team silver in Rio 2016 – what an unlucky draw!
That said, Sarra is literally miles away from the next nearest African fencer. A good Zonal Championship result will effectively lock in her qualification one year in advance.
Two PanAm teams qualified leaves Nathalie Moellhausen (BRA) way out in front. Again though, the Zonal Championship will be crucial to this individual place.
Similarly, two Asian teams qualified really opens up the race for the second Asian place. We go down to 70th on my adjusted qualification ranking to find Yoshimura Miho (JPN) currently holding this spot, however there are a number of chasers nearby – one result could change all of this.
World silver medalists Poland won the gold medal over world champions USA to take the first two places. Both teams will be happy with the strong start to the season there I think.
Not surprising to see China in the top-4. Their route to the semi-finals was made a little easier by the shock win by Hungary over France 38-33. World number 6 France start the qualification season outside the places.
Bronze medallists Italy will be much happier I’m sure – given the overall high quality of their fencers I’ll be very surprised if they aren’t towards the top of the rankings come the end of the season. Italy made the finals beating a strong Russian team, who were able to win their remaining matches and thus finish 5th and start the season in the European zonal place.
South Korea were beaten in the top-8 by the USA, but critically beat Asian rivals Hong Kong in the top-16 to ensure they start in the Asian qualification place.
Canada started the season with what was required – a top-16 place. Zonal rivals Venezuela and Brazil losing in the last-32 gives Canada an early advantage, however the upcoming Zonal Championships is going to be truly critical. A top-16 at the World Championships is probably needed as well to be safe.
Egypt missing the top-16 opens up another place. The next best team not qualified is Estonia, who were beaten by Poland in the last-8. Unless we see an African team regularly making the top-16 then this extra place will be available all season.
The next event is the respective Zonal Championships followed by the World Championships in Budapest.
Men’s Epee Qualification
So before Sunday’s team event we also had the individual world cup in Paris. The competition was won by 2016 Olympic Champion 박상영 Park Sang-young (KOR). With the Korean team outside the qualification places after the first team event of the year, he takes the first Asian zonal place.
Radek Zawrotniak (POL) had a tougher time of it following his silver medal in Cali, but those points are still good enough to keep him in the European qualification places. Likewise Wang Zijie (CHN) didn’t have the best day in Paris but a top-8 in Cali is more than enough for the second Asian place as it stands.
Tristan Tulen (NED) had a better day – following up his bronze medal in Cali with a top-16 finish in Paris to consolidate his place. Nikita Glazkov (RUS) jumps into contention with the silver medal, and there are a number of other European fencers not far away.
A top-32 finish by Jhon Rodriguez Quevedo (COL) provided some helpful points. The chase is on from 2012 Olympic Champion Ruben Dario Limardo Gascon (VEN) who finished in the top-16.
With Egypt currently qualified as a team, the race is wide open for the African zonal place. A top-32 finish by Alexandre Bouzaid (SEN) sets an early marker for qualification.
No more Men’s Epee until Zonal and World Championships.
The final team event took place in Paris at the weekend where we saw the Men’s Epee Teams in action at the spectacular Challenge SNCF Réseau.
The first shock of the day was the World Number 1 Russian team losing in the last-16 to Spain. The Spanish team went on to defeat Israel in the top-8 and ultimately finish 4th.
The top-4 was an all-European affair, with home favourites France beaten in the final by Switzerland, and Italy taking the bronze medal. The next best European team is Hungary, closely followed by Israel who also finished in the top-8.
After a disappointing individual day, Japan recovered strongly to finish 5th and take the Asian zonal place. I’d expect a strong challenge from the Korean team looking forward. It was surprising to see China lose to the Netherlands in the last-32 – they could certainly be contenders.
Whilst the USA will probably be unhappy with their loss to Japan in the last-16, they recovered well to finish 10th. Encouragingly, all their PanAm rivals lost heavily in the last-32.
Egypt looks like it has the calibre to finish inside the top-16. If they win the African Championships and make at least a top-16 at World Championships they’ve probably done enough to qualify for Tokyo 2020.