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Fencing: Roster takes hit due to Olympics schedule

Brian Hartnett | Tuesday, November 29, 2011

For Notre Dame, competing on a national stage is nothing new, as the Irish claimed the NCAA Championship last spring. This year, however, five members of the team will seek to showcase their talents in a different way as they pursue a spot in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

“All of our fencers who have a chance to qualify for the Olympics from their national and international point standings are taking the year off because of conflicts between the NCAA and Olympic schedules,” Irish coach Janusz Bednarski said.

For the Irish, this means the loss of several top fencers, including senior foilist Gerek Meinhardt, senior epeeist Courtney Hurley, senior epeeist Ewa Nelip, sophomore foilist Ariel DeSmet and freshman foilist Race Imboden. These fencers are currently forgoing a year fencing at Notre Dame to compete in a series of World Cup competitions as they seek to boost their rankings and thereby improve their chances of qualifying for the Olympics.

The series of World Cup competitions are merely the latest stop on the long road to Olympic qualification.

Top fencers began the process of qualifying at the 2010 World Championships and will follow a regimented schedule of competition until point standings close and zone-qualifying events begin in April.

“The rules for qualifying are complicated, but one can be sure that, in order to get enough points to be a qualifier, they need to compete in as many competitions as possible,” Bednarski said. “The fencers will be competing the whole year, basically up to the Olympic Games.”

Even with their individual accolades, Notre Dame fencers will face long odds to qualify for an Olympic berth. National teams that qualify for the Olympics are only able to bring three fencers for each team event and individual events likewise only permit a maximum of three fencers from a given country. With such limitations in place, the possibility of foilists Meinhardt, DeSmet, and Imboden battling for a spot on the American national team in the Olympics remains wide open.

Although several important competitions remain, the five Irish fencers striving for the Olympics have found success in national competitions throughout the fall. Imboden and Meinhardt had the top two finishes among American entrants in the foil competition at the Senior World Championships in October, with Imboden finishing eighth in the 64-competitor draw and Meinhardt racking up a 13th place finish. Hurley and Meinhardt also made strong showings in the Pan American Games, with Hurley winning the silver medal in the epee and Meinhardt helping the American team to the gold medal in the team foil event.

The five current Irish fencers do not represent the entirety of Notre Dame’s Olympic fencing connections, however. Mariel Zagunis, 2010 alumna, will look to expand her legacy as a great American fencer and win her third Olympic gold medal. Fellow 2010 graduate Kelley Hurley will try for a sport on the roster as well, along with high school senior Lee Kiefer, who has signed a letter of intent with Notre Dame.

Bednarski said successful international showings by Notre Dame fencers simply validate the strength of the team.

“Every year, we have fencers who are in the position to fight for the national team,” Bednarski said. While the loss of several top fencers will hamper this year’s Irish team, Bednarski said he feels it will also provide many opportunities for younger fencers to grow and develop.

“This season is a chance for the younger fencers to show their skills, ambition, and devotion and get more starts,” Bednarski said. “Over the long-term, it will benefit them because they will get to speed up their progress this year. We may now be the underdog team, but we are still an underdog who can bite.”


Contact Brian Hartnett at [email protected]