Freddie Woolf and Kendall Day nervously approached Olympic bronze medalist fencer Monica Aksamit between matches at the U.S. Women’s Sabre World Cup this weekend.
Aksamit smiled as the 8-year-old girls from Severna Park asked for her autograph, posed for a picture with her, and then hugged her.
The young fans had to ask: How did Aksamit get into fencing? She gestured to her mother standing nearby, who got her involved as a child.
“They handed me a weapon and said, ‘Hit the other kid,’ ” she said, as the girls giggled. “I was confused, but I said ‘OK.’ And I was pretty good.”
Aksamit and Dagmara Wozniak, who both won bronze medals in the 2016 Rio Olympics, led the No. 6-ranked U.S. squad in Sunday’s team tournament at the Baltimore Convention Center — the first time the event has been held in the city. Newcomers Kamali Thompson and Zara Moss rounded out the U.S. senior team.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are still a ways off, but Thompson and Moss are already vying to be regular members of a senior U.S. sabre team competing without two stalwarts, Ibtihaj Muhammad and Mariel Zagunis, said Donald K. Anthony, president and chairman of the board of USA Fencing.
Muhammad, the first Muslim-American woman to win a medal at the Olympics and the first to wear a hijab in competition, is taking a break from the sport to pursue business interests. Zagunis, who won individual golds at the 2004 and 2008, recently had a child.
“With those two missing, now we get to see who’s going to fill their spots,” Anthony said. “If they come back, will they be able to take those positions back? Are these ones going to step up?”
The team and its observers will have a better idea after the U.S. national championship tournament in April and the 2018 World Fencing Championship in Wuxi, China.
The United States beat Belarus early in the day, 45-33, then faced the French, Spanish and Italians. Korean, Japanese, Russian, Ukranian, and Hungarian fencers also dueled nearby.
Anthony cringed a bit as he watched the French, a perennial powerhouse, leading the United States 35-19 after seven rounds — a comfortable, if not insurmountable, lead, 10 touches shy of victory.
Moss, 18, of Cranberry Township, Pa., scored several touches in a row. Wozniak, the team’s anchor, put up a good stand at the final point, but the French eventually took the match, 45-33.
“My money’s on them to be in the final three, if not to win,” Anthony said.
He was right. France won Sunday’s team tournament; China placed second, and Korea was third.
U.S. women’s fencing coach Ed Korfanty was generally pleased with his team’s performance.
“Nothing special, but we kept our position,” he said.
Fencing is growing in popularity in the United States, according to Anthony and the American team’s fencers.
Freddie and Kendall didn’t leave the U.S. sidelines except to run to their seats for mint Oreos, Thompson asked the girls whether they planned to take up the sport.
Kendall said she eventually wants to, but she might have to quit lacrosse to do so.
Freddie fences epee, with its stiff, thicke blade; touches can be scored anywhere on the fencer’s body.
Sabre fencing allows points to be scored anywhere above the waist except the hands, and fencers can use the edge of the blade in addition to the tip. The third weapon, the foil, with the lightest blade, is the best-known. Scoring is limited to the fencer’s torso.
Phil Woolf, Freddie’s father, said the tournament was a chance for Freddie to decide how much she liked the sport.
“This was either going to scare her into quitting fencing or draw her in even more,” he said.
The girls jumped up and down with each touch. They planned to practice their fencing yells when they got home.
“It’s really exciting for me because you’re seeing the best women fencers in the world, and they’re three feet away from you,” Freddie said.
“I like how they have the flag colored on” the helmets, Kendall said.
Marta Lasota, a Harvard student from Silver Spring, got to fence in front of a home crowd Friday and visit her parents Sunday. Lasota, 19, competes for both the U.S. and Harvard teams.
“The loudness, how many people are there, the lights — it’s really great that it’s in Baltimore,” she said. “It gives those kids a chance to see it. In Maryland, it’s generally growing. It’s great for the state as well.”