• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

First couple of fencing: Lee Kiefer, Gerek Meinhardt are there for each other at Tokyo Olympics

·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

CHIBA, Japan — Fourteen hours after her gold-medal moment, Lee Kiefer leaned on a railing at Makuhari Messe Hall B, wearing a bucket hat and a "Team Meinhardt" T-shirt.

"Small steps off the line!" she yelled from the stands.

"Here we go Gerek! You can do this!"

Winning a gold medal Sunday night – the first for the U.S. in women's foil – wasn't easy.

But neither was watching her husband, Gerek Meinhardt, compete in his own event the next morning.

"I think we would both agree that it's harder to watch than it is to fence," Kiefer said.

For American fencing's power couple, the two days of individual foil competition at the Tokyo Olympics this week were an emotional whirlwind – of nerves, excitement, relief, disappointment, shock, gratitude and everything else in between.

Lee Kiefer celebrates winning gold in the individual foil.
Lee Kiefer celebrates winning gold in the individual foil.

On Sunday night, Kiefer won gold and immediately looked toward the stands to find Meinhardt, who later described the moment as his Olympic dream come true. Then, Meinhardt – who is ranked No. 2 in the world – lost his opening bout the next day, in shocking fashion. This time it was Kiefer in the stands, sharing in his disappointment.

The two have become so close, and so emotionally invested in one another and their careers, that they speak of achievements and failures collectively – "we" and "our," rather than "mine" or "theirs."

And if only one of them could come home with a medal, Meinhardt said there's no question who he'd choose.

"Definitely Lee," he said.

"I would pick him too," she later replied. "Easy."

They met, of course, through fencing – with elite international competitions doubling as early dates. Meinhardt first competed at the Olympics in 2008, when he was 17. Kiefer became the youngest member of the U.S. senior world foil team in 2009. They started dating a few years later, then got engaged on New Year's Eve in 2017.

According to USA Fencing, Meinhardt, who is afraid of heights, popped the question while they were eating dinner on a gondola ride, suspended in mid-air.

"I thought it’d be meaningful because Lee makes me a tougher and better person," Meinhardt told the national governing body's web site. "I just faced the fact that I was going to have to be cool and calm and that it would go well."

Both Kiefer and Meinhardt have been going to medical school at the University of Kentucky during the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to their Olympic training. They've long been one another's primary training partners.

"I want to say for almost half a year, we basically exclusively fenced each other," Kiefer said.

That's at least part of what made the Olympic experience this week so nerve-racking. Meinhardt said he screamed and cheered so much Sunday that he lost his voice, while also trying to project calm as Kiefer advanced from the quarterfinals to the semis and, eventually, the gold-medal bout.

"She worked so hard. She cares so much about fencing," Meinhardt said. "And beyond what people see at training, she’s fully invested and put a lot into this, so she really deserved that. I’m so happy, and everyone who knows her is so happy for her."

After Kiefer's victory, Meinhardt said he got to celebrate with her briefly at the venue. He and his other U.S. teammates watched as she received her medal and sang along to the national anthem. But then Kiefer had to take a drug test and talk with reporters, and Meinhardt had to catch a bus back to the Olympic Village

"She was basically pushing me out the door to make sure I got rest," Meinhardt said.

"We really haven’t had too much time to soak it in," Kiefer added.

The hoped the following days would give them that chance. The couple was set to celebrate Kiefer's medal – and Meinhardt's 31st birthday – on Tuesday before shifting their focus back to fencing, to their respective upcoming team events.

Kiefer with vie for a second Olympic medal Thursday with the women's foil team, as Meinhardt cheers her on. Then Meinhardt will be back on the strip with the men's team Sunday, as Kiefer watches from the stands.

"It's the best," Kiefer said. "And it's the worst."

Contact Tom Schad at tschad@usatoday.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2021 Olympics: Fencers Lee Kiefer, Gerek Meinhardt support each other