Lee Kiefer calls last Tuesday "probably one of the craziest days of my life."
In a good way. Very good.
The Paul Laurence Dunbar High School senior, competing in the Senior World Championships in fencing, became the second American woman ever to win an individual medal in foil. Iris Zimmerman of Rochester, N.Y., took bronze at the 1999 Worlds.
Kiefer, 17, opened the round of 64 by beating teammate Doris Willette of Lafayette, Calif., 15-10. Then she beat Germany's Anja Schache 15-8, China's Jinyan Chen 15-10 and Poland's Martyna Synoradzka 15-12 to reach the medal round.
There, she met three-time defending Olympic gold medalist Valentina Vezzali of Italy, who beat Kiefer 15-4 in February. This time the margin was 15-10, with Vezzali going on to take gold, her 19th World Championships career medal.
"I can talk about it — 'Oh, I got a bronze medal; really cool!'" Kiefer said Saturday during a phone interview from the tournament site in Catania, Italy. "But in my mind, I can't really capture how significant it is. Because I never even expected, probably in my life, that I would get a medal at a senior event. I hoped I would, though."
The home crowd was vocal in support its team — during an early match, when she was fencing on a strip next to the Italians, cheers were so loud, Kiefer said, she couldn't hear her own referee — but she was intimidated neither by the crowd nor the legend Vezzali.
"To me, it really wasn't that different than facing someone else who's incredibly good — the whole home advantage and the fact that she's won millions of world events," Kiefer said. "You just go in, and you fence everyone. You really don't think about who they are. You just think about what you need to do to try to win."
Kiefer, who maintained a straight-A average at Dunbar while traveling the world last year, will return to Lexington on Monday. Four days later, she'll be off to Guadalajara, Mexico, for the Pan American Games. At the 2010 and July 2011 Pan Am Championships (not to be mistaken for Pan Am Games), Kiefer swept individual and team golds.
Besides her individual success in Italy, Kiefer helped the U.S. defeat Canada, just as in the Pan Am Champs gold-medal match three months earlier, for seventh place Friday. The win also added points to Team USA's total on the Olympic Rankings list. The top four teams on the list on March 31 will advance to next year's Summer Olympic Games in London, along with the top team from each zone. Team USA is now ranked fourth in the world.
"We just think about what we need to do to get there, not necessarily about London itself," she said. "I was talking about it with one of my friends (Nicole Ross of New York). She also did really well; she got top 16.
"I was like 'don't you feel like we're just winning bouts to make London? We're not actually winning just to do well at the tournament.' She said 'I completely agree with you. It's just to stay ahead of the game.'"
So far, so good.