LONDON, Aug. 3, 2012 – Air Force Reserve Capt. Seth Kelsey finished one touch away from a medal Aug. 1 in Olympic épeé individual fencing at the ExCel Centre here.
Kelsey lost his semifinal bout in sudden-death overtime, 6-5, to the fencer who went on to win the gold medal, Venezuela’s Ruben Limardo Gascon. Then he dropped another sudden-death decision in the bronze-medal match to Korea’s Jinsun Jung,
Norway's Bartosz Piasecki won the silver.
Despite Kelsey’s disappointment in missing a medal, he said it felt good to defeat former world-champion Nikolai Novosjolov of Estonia, 15-11, earlier in the day.
“I fenced in the world championships last year, and I lost a very close match by one touch,” Kelsey said. “So I knew I had to challenge him every moment.”
The Air Force Academy graduate began the day ranked 17th in the tournament and made an unexpected run to the semifinals. His first bout was against a soldier in the Chinese Army, Guojie Li.
“We trained specifically for that guy,” Kelsey said. “I was very focused.”
Kelsey fenced with aggressive attacks from the beginning, and was able to score on the defense. When Li lunged forward, Kelsey was able to effectively parry, riposte, and follow up more than once by driving the blade home for a point.
Li, however, held his ground point-for-point and forced several double-touches, where both fencers scored. Tied at the end of the third period, the match went into sudden-death overtime and Kelsey scored first, winning 8-7.
It was the first Olympic win for Kelsey, despite London being his third Olympic games. His parents, sister and extended family were jubilant.
“He’s worked hard for a long time,” said his mother, Susan Kelsey, who watched from the stands. “I’m glad to see him move up.”
His father, Morton Kelsey, said his 6-foot-4, 209-pound son was peaking at the right time.
“He never gives up,” Morton said. “He just pushes and pushes.”
Kelsey’s second match of the day was against Novosjolov, who won the 2010 World Championship in Paris.
“I felt like I had to challenge him every moment, every step, every blade action,” Kelsey said. “You start giving him an inch, and he’s going to take everything. So I just wanted to stand up to him -- hey, like you’re not going to push me around, and I was able to get a leg up.”
Kelsey pushed his way to an upset with a 15-11 score. He went on to aggressively fence Venezuela’s Sylvio Fernandez for a 15-9 victory, earning a berth in the semifinals.
Kelsey came back in the evening, however, with a defensive strategy. His coach, Sabastien Dos Santos, said they integrated a relatively new “passivity” rule into their plan.
The rule states if there’s no blade contact for 15 to 20 seconds or if opponents are outside the fencing distance for that long, or if no hits occur for a full minute, then an entire three-minute period of competition could be forfeited.
In Kelsey’s semifinal bout with Venezuela’s Limardo, the passivity call was made by judges in the second period, immediately thrusting the match into the third stanza, which ended in a tie, forcing sudden-death overtime.
Kelsey and his coach said they prefer the extra period, or “priority” time as it’s called in fencing.
“We are not afraid to put on a lot of pressure,” Santos said. “He’s usually very successful in that critical moment.”
The strategy, however, backfired. Kelsey lunged in and Limardo parried and stuck him for the winning point.
In the bronze bout against Jung -- who lost the other semifinal -- points went one for one, with the score reverting to numerous deadlocks. In the third period, three consecutive double-touches occurred in less than a minute. The score remained tied toward the end of the third period when the fencers forced the passivity rule again.
Jung had to make a move in overtime because Kelsey had priority and would win with a tie. With 20 seconds remaining on the clock, Jung made his move. He lunged forward low and stuck his blade into the tip of Kelsey’s toe for the winning point.
Jung then dropped to his knees and fell flat onto his back in celebration while Kelsey stood in silent disbelief.
Kelsey’s fourth-place finish in the event was one of the best in recent history for the United States. The last American Olympic medal in épeé was a bronze at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, won by Navy officer George Calnan.
Mariel Zagunis won two gold medals in women’s saber at the past two Olympics, but she, like Kelsey, finished fourth this year in London.
There are three disciplines in modern fencing: foil, épée, and sabre. Unlike the other two, in épée the entire body is a valid target area, including the face. Kelsey wears a face mask with the pattern of an American flag.
Kelsey practices at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. One of his training partners is a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, Sgt. Cody Nagengast, who was in London as Kelsey’s training partner.