April 19, 2016
By Joanne Norell
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Five current or former University of Notre Dame fencing student-athletes will represent Team USA at this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the most of any other NCAA program. USA Fencing made the announcement last Monday at the Celebration of Champions ceremony in Richmond, Virginia.
Mariel Zagunis (’06, sabre), Kelley Hurley (’10, epee), Courtney Hurley (’12, epee), Gerek Meinhardt (’15, foil) and Lee Kiefer (senior, foil) will join the 17-member U.S. Olympic Fencing Team after a year-long qualification process. All are returning Olympians, while Zagunis and the Hurley sisters are the only past medalists on the 2016 team. Zagunis is a two-time Olympic champion (2004, 2008) and 2008 women’s sabre team bronze medalist, while Kelley and Courtney Hurley won bronze with the women’s epee team at the 2012 Games in London.
Zagunis will take part in her fourth Olympics and owns the most unique accomplishments of any competitor in U.S. fencing history. With her gold medal in 2004, she became the first U.S. fencer to win an Olympic gold medal in 100 years and the first U.S. women’s fencer ever to clinch an Olympic medal finish. In 2012, she became the third fencer – and sixth women – ever to be the U.S. Olympic flag bearer. These are in addition to her five Senior World Championships, 2006 World Cup Points Championship, 2005 NCAA Sabre Championship and the 2005 NCAA Team Championship. A medal finish in Rio would tie Zagunis with former Irish track & field All-American and head coach Alex Wilson (’32) for the most medals won by a Notre Dame athlete in Olympic competition. Zagunis is ranked No. 4 in the FIE senior women’s point standings.
Kelley Hurley will make her third Olympic appearance after qualifying as an individual epeeist in 2008 and with the women’s epee team in 2012. Selected as an alternate in 2012, Hurley replaced Susie Scanlan for the bronze medal match with Russia, where her 4-1 win over Anna Sivkova pulled the American squad within one touch.
This year’s Games will be the second for Courtney Hurley, who qualified as both an individual and with the women’s epee squad in 2012. With the bronze medal match against Russia on the line and the teams tied at 30, Hurley struck the winning touch on Sivkova in sudden-death overtime to clinch the 31-30 victory. It was the 27th overall Olympic podium finish in U.S. Fencing history.
Kiefer will make her second Olympic appearance. The three-time NCAA Women’s Foil Champion finished fifth at the 2012 London Olympics, falling to eventual silver medalist Arianna Errigo in the quarterfinal. In 2011, Kiefer won the bronze medal at the World Fencing Championships, while she claimed her first World Cup medal with a second-place showing in 2014-15. Kiefer currently ranks No. 4 in the world point standings.
It will be the third Olympics appearance for Meinhardt, who is a member of the U.S. Men’s Foil Team that reached a No. 1 world ranking during the quad and qualified for Rio after medaling at three of the four World Cups this season, with gold medals in Tokyo and Paris. Meinhardt – currently the No. 3 in the world in men’s foil – was the youngest U.S. Olympic fencer of all time when he made the team at the age of 17 for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Notre Dame’s five fencing Olympians are two more than Penn State, which will have three. St. John’s will have two representatives while Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, Duke, Ohio State and Columbia will each have one.
Joanne Norell, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2014 and coordinates communications efforts for the Notre Dame women’s soccer, men’s tennis, women’s tennis and fencing programs. Norell is a 2011 graduate of Purdue University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, and earned her master’s degree in sports industry management from Georgetown University in 2013.