Another sport I covered in Beijing, and I can tell you first-hand that the action is a little faster than what you see in The Princess Bride, as marvelous as those sword-fighting scenes were. (Yes, fencers tend to be big fans of Mandy Patinkin’s work in that film.)
We don’t get another World Championship until October, but fencing persists in having even-year championships as well, so we have results from November. Fencing also has a vast array of World Cups and other events that count toward a world ranking, though such rankings often depend on staying active in little events rather than sitting home training for the big ones.
Men’s epee … no, wait … épée: This event has a bit of randomness to it. The top seeds were all upset in Beijing. Consistent performers are rare, so we’ll single out Gábor Boczkó (Hungary) for making the semifinals in 2008 and 2010. He’s ranked second in behind France’s Gauthier Grumier. The current world champion is Estonia’s Nikolai Novosjolov. Safest bet for projections are to pick from the countries with the deepest talent pools.
2008: Matteo Tagliariol (Italy), Fabrice Jeannet (France), José Luis Abajo (Spain)
Projection: France, Hungary, Italy
Top Americans: Weston “Seth” Kelley has a few quarterfinal appearances at big events and teamed with Benjamin Bratton, Cody Mattern and Benjamin Ungar for team silver in 2010.
Men’s team épée: The USA upset Hungary in the 2010 semifinals to take silver behind France. Hungary beat Russia for bronze. South Korea and Russia also are contenders, while Italy somehow hasn’t put together a decent team despite its individual success.
2008:France, Poland, Italy
Projection: Hungary, France, USA
Men’s foil: A few more fencers have found consistency here. Germany’s Peter Joppich was fifth in Beijing and first in 2010. Japan’s Yuki Ota took silver in 2008 and bronze in 2010. China’s Sheng Lei made the 2008 quarterfinals and the 2010 final, claiming No. 1 in the rankings. Italy has four fencers in the top 11. This is the men’s discipline with no team event.
2008: Benjamin Kleibrink (Germany), Yuki Ota (Japan), Salvatore Sanzo (Italy)
Projection: China, Germany, USA
Top Americans: Yes, that’s “USA” projected for bronze. Gerek Meinhardt shared bronze with Ota at the 2010 Worlds. Miles Chamley-Watson placed fifth at Worlds and is ranked third.
Men’s sabre: Definitely a changing of the guard here since Zhong Man rode the raucous Chinese cheers to gold in Beijing. South Korea has the world champion in Won-Woo Young and a couple more fencers in the top seven. The top nine is all South Korea, Russia and Italy except No. 1 — Germany’s Nicolas Limbach won the 2009 Worlds and finished second in 2010.
2008: Zhong Man (China), Nicolas Lopez (France), Mihai Covaliu (Romania)
Projection: Germany, South Korea, Italy
Top Americans: Keeth Smart led the USA to team silver in 2008, but he was ready to move to another career after the press conference that moved into the hallway after the incredibly rude French team started chatting so loudly in the press room that we couldn’t hear them. (Not that the French lack of sportsmanship and his retirement are related — that’s just how it all stuck in my mind from the blur of being in Beijing.) Teammates Tim Morehouse and James Williams are still ranked, but the top American is 21st-ranked youngster Daryl Homer.
Men’s team sabre: France and the USA have slipped down the rankings since 2008. Italy and Russia, which battled for bronze in 2008, battled for gold in 2010, with Russia taking the title. Romania finished third in 2010 and holds that position in the world rankings. Germany, Belarus and China are the other top contenders.
2008: France, USA, Italy
Projection: Italy, Russia, Romania
Women’s épée: Another event with a changing of the guard in recent years. Poland’s Magdalena Piekarsha has a commanding lead in the rankings despite finishing fifth at Worlds behind France’s Maureen Nimisa, Hungary’s Emese Szász, Russia’s Tatiana Logounova and Italy’s Nathalie Moellhausen. France is the only country with two fencers in the top 10, which would make projecting the team event difficult if the Olympics had one.
2008: Britta Heidemann (Germany), Ana Maria Brânză (Romania), Ildikó Mincza-Nébald (Hungary)
Projection: Poland, France, Hungary
Top Americans: Kelley Hurley ranks 21st.
Women’s foil: In 2008 and 2010, South Korea’s Hyun-Hee Nam was the only non-Italian in the semifinals. Beijing gold medalist Valentina Vezzali finished third at Worlds and holds the top ranking. Nam is second, with world champ Elisa Di Francisca third.
2008: Valentina Vezzali (Italy), Hyun-Hee Nam (South Korea), Margherita Granbassi (Italy)
Projection: Italy, Italy, South Korea
Top Americans: Lee Kiefer ranks 17th. The silver medalists from the 2008 team event are inactive.
Women’s team foil: Italy’s individual success translates to the team event in this case, at least in the 2010 Worlds. Poland finished second, followed by South Korea. The top four in the rankings: Italy, Russia, South Korea, Poland.
2008: Russia, USA, Italy
Projection: Italy, South Korea, Russia
Women’s sabre: The Dream Team of Americans has more or less disbanded, with Sada Jacobson retired and Becca Ward happily winning NCAA titles at Duke. But Mariel Zagunis followed up her Olympic gold with two straight world titles, each time beating Ukraine’s Olga Kharlan in the final. Russia’s Sophia Velikaia, who shared bronze in 2010 with Ukraine’s Olena Khomrova, is a close third in the rankings behind Zagunis and Kharlan.
2008: Mariel Zagunis (USA), Sada Jacobson (USA), Becca Ward (USA)
Projection: USA, Ukraine, Russia
Top Americans: Ward says she’s not competing in 2012. But Zagunis isn’t the only American contender — Ibithaj Muhammad ranks 14th, 2008 Olympic alternate Dagmara Wozniak 18th.
Women’s team sabre: Ukraine followed its upset of the USA in 2008 with a world title in 2009 and a runner-up finish behind Russia in 2010. France also has been on the podium in the last two world championships, beating the USA for third in 2010, yet they’re ranked fifth behind Russia, Ukraine, China and the USA.
2008: Ukraine, China, USA
Projection: Russia, Ukraine, France