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Dunbar senior earns Olympic fencing berth

Earning Olympic fencing berths Sunday were, from left, Doris Willette, Lee Kiefer of Lexington, Kiefer's personal coach Amgad Khazbak, Nzingha Prescod and Nicole Ross.
Earning Olympic fencing berths Sunday were, from left, Doris Willette, Lee Kiefer of Lexington, Kiefer's personal coach Amgad Khazbak, Nzingha Prescod and Nicole Ross.

The qualification process for the 2012 U.S. Olympic fencing team in women's foil wrapped up Sunday at Virginia Beach, Va., with Lexington's Lee Kiefer topping the list.

A Paul Laurence Dunbar High School senior, Kiefer won the silver medal at last year's World Championships.

Monday, Kiefer's personal coach in Lexington, Amgad Khazbak, was named lead coach of the Olympic women's foil team.

Khazbak is a former competitor and coach of the Egyptian National Team. He has been maestro of the Bluegrass Fencers Club in Lexington since 2004.

Kiefer went into the weekend with her spot locked up, along with 2011 Pan Am Games silver medalist Nzingha Prescod of Brooklyn, N.Y.

That left the third spot in individual competition to a showdown between Nicole Ross of New York and Doris Willette of Lafayette, Calif., with both athletes ticketed for the four-woman team competition at the London Olympics. The fourth member also serves as an alternate for the Olympic individual competition. (All nominations are subject to confirmation by the U.S. Olympic Committee.)

Despite suffering an injury in the midst of Sunday's competition, two-time World Team member Ross pulled through to get the third spot. Willette actually beat Ross in the semifinals, 15-11, and went on to beat two-time reigning national champion Margaret Lu of Greenwich, Conn., 15-8, for the gold medal. Based on points accrued throughout the season qualification process, Ross clinched her Olympic berth by reaching the semifinals.

Kiefer and Prescod, who a week earlier won silver medals in the team event at the Junior World Championships, already had their Olympic berths locked up and elected not to compete at Virginia Beach.

"We just needed a break," Kiefer said. "It's been a long couple months and it was good to come back from Moscow and not have to worry about this weekend."

With a tip of the foil to Nicole Jomantas of USA Fencing for providing all this information. ...

Kiefer technically earned enough points to qualify for the Games in March, but said she held off telling her Dunbar classmates.

"I didn't want to tell people I was definitely going and then have them look it up on the Internet and go 'I don't see her on the list! She's lying!'" Kiefer said with a laugh. "I've been saying 'There's a good chance,' but they're all really excited for me, though."

Although Kiefer has been "officially unofficial" for some time, she said she hasn't thought much about the Games themselves.

"I haven't really thought about it much yet. I've thought 'Oh! I'm going to be on the team,' but I haven't thought much past that yet," she said. "I just know I want to be in my prime and I want to be able to fence well and be happy with my performance, regardless of what the outcome is."

Unlike in World Cups where athletes find out their first opponent the night before they fence, at the Olympic Games, seeding will be done just under a month prior to the event.

"We're going to know who we're going to fence, so I want to be prepared for whomever that is," Kiefer said. "You can watch a lot of video on them and really make a game plan for what you're going to do because you know they're going to be doing the same on you."

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