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BEIJING 2008 : WOMEN'S FENCING

U.S. pointed in a good direction

August 17, 2008|Melissa Isaacson | Chicago Tribune

BEIJING -- American fencers, once plagued by their cash-strapped federation and dominated by countries with proud histories in the sport, thrust themselves to prominence this past week and captured the silver medal in the women's team foil Saturday night.

It is the Americans' first Olympic medal in women's foil and the first U.S. medal in foil since 1960.

It is also the fifth medal in fencing for the U.S. at the Beijing Games -- all in the women's competition -- the strongest performance American fencers have ever shown.

Earlier in the competition, the U.S. swept the medals in the individual sabre and captured a bronze in team sabre.

"I don't think we ever expected today to come out the way it did," U.S. fencer Erinn Smart said.

"You always dream about these moments. We were underdogs going into all of our matches, and I think some of the other countries didn't expect we'd be as strong as we were."

American fencers received a boost once the U.S. Olympic Committee agreed to bypass the federation and fund the fencers directly.

"There's a lot more money going into it now," Emily Cross said. "And for us, the team dynamic is so great, anything was possible for us and everything clicked today."

The seventh-seeded U.S. team upset No. 2 Poland and No. 3 Hungary before falling to Russia in the final.

"We woke up this morning and knew we had a good draw with Poland and Hungary and were excited about it," Smart said.

"The stars aligned for us today."

This was Smart's third Olympic appearance and she has relied on the support of her brother Keeth, a member of the men's team. The two Brooklyn natives lost their mother to colon cancer in May and their father to a heart attack two years ago. It was their father who turned his children on to the sport after reading about it in a newspaper article.

"It's been tough, but the last time around [in Athens], my parents knew how close Keeth was and this is what they wanted," Erinn Smart said. "They wanted us to medal."

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