WASHINGTON, July 27, 2012 — When the first fencing event of the 2012 Olympics, individual women’s foil, kicks off on Saturday, July 28, history could be in the making. Italy’s Valentina Vezzali, competing in her fifth Olympics, will search for her fourth consecutive individual gold medal, an achievement that would put her in elite company with Americans Carl Lewis (long jump, 1984-1996) and Al Oerter (discus, 1956-1968).
But unlike in past years, a historic win for Vezzali is far from a foregone conclusion. For starters, her pursuit will almost certainly have to take her through one or both of her talented teammates. World number three Elisa Di Francisca has spent much of the past eight years, outside of her 2010 world championship, toiling in Vezzali’s shadow, while fourth-ranked Arianna Errigo, 24, is looking to establish herself as the next star in a rapidly aging field.
Should she get to her fifth straight Olympic final, Vezzali will likely be facing the fourth-seeded Di Francisca or the top seed, Nam Hyun-hee of South Korea, the 2008 silver medalist. And there are others capable of taking down Vezzali who are poised to play spoilers. Vezzali is almost certain to make the quarterfinals, but the road will get markedly tougher from there on.
Based on the draw released last night, should Vezzali make the quarters, she will face either Astrid Guyart of France, against whom she is 0-3 over the past two years or Ines Boubakri of Tunisia, the reigning African champion. In the semifinals, Vezzali would most likely be up against Errigo or 18-year-old American Lee Kiefer, a bronze medalist at the 2011 World Championships.
Indeed, thanks to the draw, which is not based exclusively on the current world rankings but also takes into account a random drawing of lots that moves fencers up a spot, down a spot, or leaves them at their spot in the Adjusted Olympic Ranking, only two things about the event seem certain. First, the three medalists will probably all come from the group composed of the three Italians, Nam, Guyart, and Kiefer. Second, Vezzali’s will to win yet another gold medal will go a long way in a direct elimination format and atmosphere that favors her history of thriving under pressure.
But first thing’s first. Tonight, Vezzali will be one of four fencers carrying their countries’ flags in the Opening Ceremony along with Mariel Zagunis of the United States, Laura Flessel-Colovic of France, and Nguyen Tien Nhat of Vietnam. About twelve hours later, she’ll be five wins away from history.
Prediction: Valentina Vezzali’s dominance has long gone unquestioned, but it ends outside the medal rounds to Astrid Guyart (FRA) in the quarterfinals, opening the door for teammate Arianna Errigo to continue the pattern of Italian domination in women’s foil. (Four of the past five individual Olympic titles.)
Gold: Arianna Errigo, Italy
Silver: Elisa Di Francisca, Italy
Bronze: Astrid Guyart, France
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