Young Lexington Fencer Comes Up Short In Olympics
LONDON -- Lee Kiefer was chatting, smiling, even laughing a little not long after being ousted in the individual women's foil quarterfinals at the London Olympics. And really, why be upset? The way the 18-year-old fencer from Lexington, Ky., sees it, her best days are still ahead.
"I'm not at my full potential yet," the soon-to-be Notre Dame freshman said. "I know there's stuff I can work on."
Kiefer lost in the foil quarterfinals 15-10 to eventual silver medalist Arianna Errigo of Italy, and was predictably upset after having her shot of competing for an Olympic medal dashed.
It didn't take long for her to look ahead, first to the team competition in a few days, and then even to the 2016 Games in Brazil, where she would already figure to be a medal favorite.
"I'm definitely excited to be here, but I'm not overwhelmed," Kiefer said. "And I feel like I have so much more to learn before the next Olympics, and I hope everything can go well. A lot of athletes, they get injured or they just find other things to do. So I just want to keep being motivated and stay strong for the next one, so I can do better."
No one did better than the Italians in foil on Saturday - they swept the medals, with Elisa Di Francisca winning a wild gold-medal final over Errigo 12-11, and Valentina Vezzali beating South Korea's Nam Hyun Hee 13-12 for the bronze.
Kiefer's rise through the cadet and junior ranks was eye-popping, with world junior championship medals, gold medals at the Pan American Games and even a senior-level bronze at the world championships last season. It was that showing a year ago that left her thinking of the possibility of Olympic glory in London. Yet in the end, Errigo proved to be too big a challenge.
Literally, too big a challenge.
Kiefer is small: 5-foot-4, 105 pounds. Sometimes it works to her advantage in fencing, since she's a little target. Sometimes, when facing someone with a significant reach advantage like Errigo - seven inches taller and 36 pounds heavier than Kiefer - it's a detriment.
"You just have to use what you have to your advantage," Kiefer said. "I'm small. I can be fast and hard to hit. And she's tall, she has a long reach and she has really good point control. You just use whatever you have. ... I made a few mistakes, which was frustrating. She came at me and attacked me."
Still, it's been a big few days for U.S. fencing.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Mariel Zagunis was chosen by other American qualifiers for the London Games as the flag bearer for Friday's opening ceremony, and that selection got the sport tons of unplanned exposure. And Kiefer's round-of-16 match Saturday generated even more attention, since it was a comeback that sent people scurrying to Twitter to talk about.
Kiefer was struggling against South Korea's Jung Gil Ok, having wasted a 7-2 early lead and then needing the final three points to pull off a 15-13 win. About 30 minutes later, she was back at work, still riding some of the emotional high of the comeback. Kiefer never led against Errigo, trailing 9-4 at one point, and another comeback was not in the cards.
"I just know so many of my friends and family across the States are so excited for me," Kiefer said. "They're telling everyone they're watching, and I'm just happy I put on a good show for them."
And she might have gotten a few more eyeballs on fencing as well.
"I hope so," she said. "That's always the goal."