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U.S. gets the silver in day of surprises

August 18, 2008|Kevin Pang | Chicago Tribune

BEIJING -- In a match pitting the "Bleus" against the "Red, White and Blue," France beat the United States on Sunday in an improbable gold medal match in men's team sabre.

Improbable not because the French, considered the favorites coming into these Games, took home the gold in their second straight Olympics by defeating the Americans, 45-37.

Improbable because the U.S. men's sabre team was not expected to make a blip in Beijing but found its way to the gold medal match Sunday evening after a stunning afternoon of upset wins. The seventh-seeded Americans -- led by Keeth Smart, Tim Morehouse and James Williams, plus Jason Rogers, who did not compete in the final -- come home with the silver, their highest standing. The only previous men's team sabre medal for the U.S. was bronze at the 1948 London Games.

In their first quarterfinals earlier in the day, the Americans came from behind to defeat second-seeded Hungarians, 45-44. Down 40-36, Smart won 9-4 in the final bout to advance.

In the semifinals, the U.S. faced third-seeded Russia and again found itself in a deficit, 35-28. And again, Smart rallied, scoring 10 touches to Russia's four for another 45-44 win.

"You know when you're a little kid and you're dreaming about baseball, and you dream about hitting that grand slam in the ninth inning?" Morehouse said. "Well, Keeth did that twice."

Lightning did not strike a third time for the Americans. France's Julien Pillet opened the gold medal bout with four consecutive points against Morehouse. The French never looked back.

With chants of "Allez les Bleus!" from the crowd, France continued scoring with Errol Flynn efficiency, at points leading by 13 touches: 37-24 and again at 43-30. The Americans made it interesting late, rallying to 45-37.

Still, settling for a silver after a day of improbable comebacks is a satisfying end for Smart. The former world top-ranked fencer is retiring to enter business school at Columbia University within days.

"It's been four long years of heartache that we had to relive over and over," said Smart, whose 2004 Athens team finished fourth. "This is the best ending I could ever dream of. To win it with my friends is the greatest feeling in the world."

In the bronze medal bout, Italy rallied in the ninth and final round to beat Russia, 45-44.

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