Fencing kicks off Day 1 of the Olympics with the women competing in the individual epee event. In the epee discipline, a touch, or point, can only be scored by the tip of the sword and the entire body is a valid target area for opponents.
Controversy enveloped the closing rounds of the event at the London Games and resulted in a one hour protest. Shin A-Lam of South Korea was pitted against Germany’s Britta Heidemann.
With the score tied at five, both fencers scored a touch simultaneously as the clock ticked down to one second. When this occurs, each fencers point is nullified and the competition resumes. In two subsequent restarts, they again scored simultaneous touches.
At the end of the third double hit, the clock operator mistakenly let the clock expire. The referee added one second back on the clock and on the fourth try Heidemann scored a touch as the clock hit zero.
Lam was devestated and collapsed to the piste crying while her coach filed two appeals with fencing officials arguing that it was impossible for three instances of double hits and Heidemann’s winning touch to occur in one second of real time. Lam remained on the piste for a full hour before officials rejected both appeals.
Yana Shemyakina of the Ukraine went on to defeat Heidemann in the finals. Team USA’s Maya Lawrence was the only American to advance to the Round of 16 where she lost to Rossella Fiamingo of Italy. Courtney Hurley did not make it out of the Round of 32.
After placing seventh in London in both the individual and team competitions, Fiamingo is one of the favorites to win it all after earning back-to-back gold medals at the World Championships in 2014 and 2015.
Tunisia’s Sarra Besbes is expected to challenge for gold too after placing third at Worlds last year. She lost to Heidemann in the quarterfinals in 2012. If Besbes medals in Rio, she would make history by earning Tunisia its first fencing medal.
Courtney Hurley returns to the piste, joined by her older sister Kelley who will make her debut in the individual competition. At the U.S. Olympic team fencing press conference, Kelley told reporters that Rio will be a bit of an adjustment despite having two Olympic appearances under her belt.
“It’s the first time I’m fencing both individual and team, so I feel like it’s my first complete Olympics,” she said.
The Hurley’s are joined by Kat Holmes, a neurosciences major at Princeton who took two years off school to train for the Games and makes her Olympic debut.
Holmes has participated in three consecutive World Championships, placing 31st, 28th, and 27th. Holmes has worked hard to make her dream of qualifying for the Olympics a reality.
“I’m not the most athletically talented or the most academically talented. I’ve really had to work for it, and I’ve also seen that it pays off,” she said. “It’s kind of a positive reinforcement loop of if I work hard, I can do this, and I really think that can take me as far as I’m willing to work.”