World’s best tune up for Budapest

The best fencers in the world have competed at their respective regional championships before they converge on the BOK Sports Hall in Budapest, Hungary for the 81st edition of the FIE’s Fencing World Championships to be held July 15 – 23.

With only a couple of weeks before competition begins in the picturesque Hungarian capital, the best fencers in Africa, Asia and Europe have already competed in their regional competitions. Notwithstanding the Pan-American championships starting on June 27 in Toronto, Canada, these have provided a final hit out before what looms as a warm up for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

Here we take a look at the form and prospects of the top-ranked individual fencer’s in each discipline.

FIE Rankings & Points

Women’s Epee

1. Man Wai Vivian Kong (HKG) – 184.00 pts
2. Ana Maria Popescu (ROM) – 182.00 pts
3. Mara Navarria (ITA) – 173.00 pts

The only current number one ranked fencer from Asia, Man Wai Vivian Kong from Hong Kong had a breakout season this year. She won her first two World Cup events in Havana and then Barcelona in January and February, which took her to the top of the women’s epee rankings for the first time in her career. The Stanford graduate was also a runner-up in Tallin and a defeated semifinalist in Dubai, the last World Cup event of the season. Outside of that, she was fifth at the Grand Prix in Doha but also missed the top 16 on several occasions, including at the GP in Budapest in March, and was ninth in the Asian Championships that recently completed in Tokyo.

Notably, the left-hander lists her rival and world number two, Ana Maria Popescu of Romania as her sporting hero, which if you believe the expression ‘never meet your idols’, may or may not be a good thing. Although a veteran of the Rio Olympics, where she placed 11th, her best result at a senior World Championship is 2014’s 8th place in Kazan, Russia, which may seem like a long time ago by the time she gets to Hungary.

On the flip side, both of her two main rivals, Popescu and Mara Navarria of Italy, are veterans at this level. Navarria is the reigning world champion and despite not adding to her five career Grand Prix and World Cup gold’s this season, has stood on the dais twice including as runner up at the Cali GP in May, where she lost to China’s Sun Yiwen in a tight final. Navarria has also been a consistent top ten finisher, including at the recent European Championships, where she was ninth. Along with her Romanian counterpart, Popescu, she is likely to be looking to add the finishing touches to a great career, starting here on the road to Tokyo.

Outside of this group, France’s newly crowned 12th-ranked European champion, Coraline Vitalis is another to look out for, along with experienced Korean pair Injeong Choi and Mi Young Kang, ranked 9th and 5th respectively. Team USA’s best hopes lie with sisters Courtney and Kelley Hurley, ranked 8th and 10th, although both have had inconsistent seasons, with Courtney’s also impacted by a knee injury.

Men’s Epee

1. Yannick Borel (FRA) – 195.00 pts
2. Kazuyasu Minobe (JPN) – 159.00 pts
3. Bogdan Nikishin (UKR) – 159.00 pts

Despite an injury-hit season in which French world number one Yannick Borel won only once — at the GP in Doha in January on the only occasion he made it to the top 8 — it’s hard to look past the current world and three-time European champion to defend his title from China. Overall, it has been difficult to predict a winner in the men’s epee all season, with only one man, world number two Kazuyasu Minobe from Japan, showing any kind of consistency. He won three times this year, at the World Cup event in Berne, and at the Grand Prix in Cali and Budapest, the home of this year’s championships. Notably, however, outside of a 6th place at the Rio Olympics in 2016, Minobe’s best result at a senior World Championships has been the 22nd he achieved at Kazan, Russia in 2014.

In total, the 31-year-old Japanese is one of only three men to step on the dais on more than one occasion this year. The others being Borel’s teammate, 26th-ranked Alexandre Bardenet, who won in Heidenheim and placed third in Vancouver, and Koki Kano, the 21-year-old talent from Japan who had the exact opposite results — a debut win in Vancouver and a third place in Heidenheim.

The other man with a chance in Budapest is veteran 39-year-old Ukrainian Bogdan Nikishin. Without adding to his six career titles this year, he still made his presence felt inside the top 8 on several occasions, including taking third place at the Grand Prix in Budapest in January. He was also good enough for bronze in China last year and has been a consistent top ten performer at this level in recent years. With Tokyo 2020 likely to be his last major competition, the world number three is still a contender despite his advancing years.

Others to look for include Venezuela’s 4th-ranked Ruben Limardo Gascon, last year’s runner-up to Borel and an Olympic champion in London. Despite a poor season results-wise for him, he knows how to peak at the right time. Korea’s reigning Olympic champion, 23-year-old Sangyoung Park, who won the last World Cup event of the season in Paris, is also someone to watch. Team USA has two fencers in the world’s top ten, Jacob Hoyle (8) and Curtis McDowald (9), who both managed a third-place this year, at the Qatar GP and Buenos Aries World Cup, respectively. Look for them both to improve on last year’s performances in China, where they finished 64th and a surprise 8th, respectively.

Women’s Foil

1. Alice Volpi (ITA) – 288.00 pts
2. Inna Deriglazova (RUS) – 275.00 pts
3. Arianna Errigo (ITA) – 188.00 pts

Despite hanging on to the world number one ranking on the strength of her win at last year’s World Championships in China, Italy’s Alice Volpi has been dominated by her main rival and world number two, Russia’s Inna Deriglazova throughout the season. Unfortunately for her fans, she has lost all four of the gold medal bouts they’ve competed in this year. Even when Volpi did win gold at the World Cup in Turin in February — her only victory of the season and third overall — it was her Italian teammate, 11th ranked Francesca Palumbo, who knocked out the Russian in the table of eight, a rare blip in Deriglazova’s near-perfect season. At the recently completed European Championships in Dusseldorf, Deriglazova, who finished runner-up to another Italian, London Olympic gold medalist Elisa di Francisca, was again too good for Volpi in their semifinal, adding to the four victories in St. Maur, Cairo, Anaheim and Shanghai. In all, Deriglazova won an incredible six out of eight international competitions she competed in, with her worst results a fifth in Turin and a third in Algiers. Having also won World Championship gold twice — in Leipzig (‘17) and Moscow (’15) — the reigning Olympic champion must be the firmest of favourites to make it three in Budapest. Last year she finished fifth after being upset by France’s Ysaora Thibus in the table of eight.

While there is daylight between Deriglazova, Volpi and the rest of the field in terms of their ranking points, third-ranked Arianna Errigo cannot be discounted. The 31-year-old left-hander is a two-time world champion herself, including at this venue in 2013, and will be looking to at least match her third place in China in 2018. However, she too has suffered at the hands of the all-conquering Russian this season, suffering two semifinal losses to her in Shanghai and Katowice, so she’ll expect to have to beat her to advance.

Outside of this group, USA’s 4th-ranked Lee Kiefer has been on the third rung of the dais three times this season, and despite her small frame, continues to be a strong performer. Her record at Olympic and World Championship level is good too, a consistent quarterfinalist since 2011, when she won bronze in Catania, although this remains her best result. France’s Ysaora Thibus was third in 2017, runner-up in 2018 and will be looking to complete her set of medals in Budapest in 2019. At the European Championships in Dusseldorf, she couldn’t get past a resurgent Di Francesca in the semifinals but will be at the pointy end of this competition, as she seems to thrive under the biggest pressure.

Also worth looking out for is Germany’s 7th-ranked 19-year-old Leonie Ebert, who has taken some big scalps on her way to a first senior silver in Katowice and consistent top 8 finishes this season. Also, take note of Korean veteran and Asian Champion in Tokyo, Sook Hee Jeon. She won silver back in 2009, but has worked her way back into form in 2019.

Men’s Foil

1. Alessio Foconi (ITA) – 258.00 pts

2. Race Imboden (USA) – 184.00 pts
3. Daniele Garozzo (ITA) – 162.00 pts

The men’s foil has been hotly contested all season, with Italy’s reigning World and now European champion Alessio Foconi a deserved number one by season’s end. While he was easily the most consistent, eventually winning twice —in Paris and Shanghai — and standing on the dais another four times, he didn’t have it all his own way. USA’s number two ranked Race Imboden, who first rose to the top of the rankings in 2015, and again in 2018, defeated the Italian twice this season, once in the semifinal at the World Cup in Tokyo, and again two weeks later at the same stage of the Grand Prix in Turin, Italy.

While both victories will give the American belief that he can repeat the dose in Budapest, at world championship level, he has never advanced further than eighth place (2011, 2017). To do so, he will also have to get past the likes of third-ranked Rio Olympic champion Daniele Garozzo, another Italian, and his teammates Giorgio Avola (5th) and the legendary Andrea Cassaras (8th). The Italians have a long history in the foil, often contesting semifinals and finals against each other on the world circuit. Garozzo himself won gold at the Cairo World Cup this year, defeating Avola in the semifinal, and was runner-up to Foconi at the Euros in Dusseldorf most recently.

Outside of this group, Great Britain’s Richard Kruse has put all of his experience to work this year, winning twice — in Bonn and Tokyo — and will be considered a chance to improve upon his silver at last year’s championships in China. He will have strong competition from the likes of 10th-ranked 2014 Russian world champion Alexey Cheremisinov and a clutch of Americans inside the top 20, namely Gerek Meinhardt (6th), Alexander Massialas (12th) and young gun Nick Itkin (17th). Asia’s best prospects lie with Korea’s 2018 bronze medalist Jeo Hun and Long Ka Cheung, the 22-year-old from Hong Kong who was runner-up to Imboden at the Grand Prix in Turin in February.

Women’s Sabre

1. Sofya Velikaya (RUS) – 282.00 pts
2. Sofia Pozdniakova (RUS) – 186.00 pts
3. Cecilia Berder (FRA) – 170.00 pts

Primarily dominated by two Russians, a Ukrainian and two Frenchwoman, two-time Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion Sofya Velikaya was imperious this year in the women’s sabre. She won three times in total, at the Grand Prix in Cairo and Moscow, and then at the World Cup in Tunis in May. Although she missed out on a fifth European title to long-time rival Olga Kharlan, (she finished third after defeat to France’s Manon Brunet in the semifinals) Velikaya will be eager to prove there’s life in her ‘old’ legs yet.

Trying to prove her wrong will be her 22-year-old teammate and surprise reigning world champion Sofia Pozdniakova, who took her first career World Cup victory in Athens in March. Ukrainian Kharlan, the three-time world champion (2013, 14, 17) has slipped from the number one ranking this year, but will still believe she can add to her huge list of career achievements — she also has 12 World Cup and an astonishing 15 Grand Prix victories to date — especially after winning her sixth European championship in Germany this month.

Third-ranked Cecilia Berder from France is hard to ignore after breaking through for her third career world cup win in Salt Lake City in January, however, aside from a third place at the GP in Cairo the next month, failed to make the medal rounds again all season. She also placed a disappointing 21st at the Euros in Dusseldorf. Korea’s 5th-ranked 2012 Olympic champion Jiyeon Kim is likely to challenge, having made the dais three times this season — including a silver at the Grand Prix in Seoul — and is experienced enough to have what it takes to medal. Hungarian pair Liza Pusztai (9th) and Anna Marton (11th) should also be considered a chance to carry an upset. 18-year-old Pusztai stood on the dais twice this season — in Athens and Moscow — and Marton won in Orleans and was third at the recently completed Euros.

For Team USA, 7th-ranked Anne-Elizabeth Stone is the best chance of following up her bronze in China last year. She has struggled to follow up that potential, however, with a 5th place at the Grand Prix in Cairo her best result of the season. Dagmara Wozniak (15th) is unlikely to challenge the top ten after failing to make it past the table of 16 all season.

Men’s Sabre

1. Eli Dershwitz (USA) – 240.00 pts
2. Max Hartung (GER) – 213.00 pts
3. Aron Szilagyi (HUN) – 180.00 pts

Holding on to the world number one ranking by virtue of his silver medal at last year’s world championships in China, USA’s Eli Dershwitz’s season, although consistent, hasn’t brought the number of victories he may have hoped. Starting with a rusty 17th at the first event of the season in Algier, which he followed up with his only win in Vasovie, Poland, he then finished fifth in his next five consecutive competitions. Breaking the hoodoo with a silver at the season-ending Grand Prix in Moscow, as this piece was being written, he had just taken out his fourth Pan-American championship in Toronto, Canada. While it means the young American has come back into tournament form at the right time of the year, his competition is stiff.

World number two Max Hartung from Germany has arguably had the best season of his career. He has won twice — in Budapest and Madrid — and stood on the dais a further four times, in Varsovie, Padoue, Seoul and Moscow. Notably, in both Budapest and Padoue, he defeated the less experienced Dershwitz, 15-12 and 15-14, respectively. Dershwitz’s only victory against Hartung came at the Seoul GP in 2016, when he won 15-13.

Hungary’s legendary number three ranked athlete, Aron Szilagyi, who is the two-time reigning Olympic champion, will be tough to beat on his home strip too. A runner up three times this season — in Cairo, Padoue and Seoul — his best result at a world championship was the third he achieved in 2013 — in Budapest. Suffice to say the local hero will be determined to remedy that and go two steps better when competition begins on July 15.

The Korean quartet of Sanguk Oh, who won twice this season — in Cairo and Seoul — Junghwan Kim, the reigning world champion and Rio bronze medalist, Junho Kim and Bongil Gu, will all be trying to make it hard for him. Oh looks the most likely, having just won his first Asian championships in Tokyo earlier this month. Italy’s 7th-ranked Luca Curatoli could also play a part, having found victory in Padoue and consistency to his fencing this year.

Outside of Dershwitz, Team USA’s chances in the men’s sabre rest with Rio Olympic silver medalist Daryl Homer, whose ranking has slipped to 17th this year after failing to make it past the table of 16 all season. He clearly knows how to perform on the biggest stages however, having also taken silver at this level in Moscow in 2015.

The 2019 FIE World Fencing Championships take place at the BOK Sports Hall in Budapest, Hungary from July 15-23.

World’s best tune up for Budapest

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