• Thu. Jul 7th, 2022

Notre Dame’s Lee Kiefer credits her family for winning fencing gold medal Tokyo Olympics


Jul 26, 2021

Notre Dame has seven Heisman Trophy winners. It won’t be long until it has that many fencing gold medals.

The third came Sunday at the Tokyo Olympics, where Lee Kiefer beat defending champion Inna Deriglazova of Russia 15-13 in the women’s foil final.

Kiefer ripped off her mask after the final point and shouted, “Oh my God!”

Mariel Zagunis, also a Notre Dame graduate, is the only other American fencer to earn gold, winning women’s saber events at Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008.

Kiefer’s gold is the first in Tokyo by an athlete with an Indiana connection. Indiana Olympians won 19 medals at Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

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Kiefer, 27, a four-time NCAA champion and three-time Olympian, is a medical student at the University of Kentucky. Her husband, Gerek Meinhardt, won a team bronze in foil in 2016. Notre Dame established the Lee Kiefer/Gerek Meinhardt Award in 2018, honoring a fencer giving time selflessly and humbly in training.

Kiefer is so petite – 5-4, 110 pounds – that it can be difficult to identify her sport in the Olympic Village.

Marathoner? Gymnast? Coxswain?

“People probably just think I’m a guest,” she once said.

She took lessons in horseback riding and piano before devoting herself to fencing. During the pandemic, she trained on a fencing strip she helped build in her parents’ basement.

She placed fifth in foil in 2012 and 10th in 2016. As long as 10 years ago, her bronze made her the second American female fencer to win a medal at the senior World Championships.

“It’s such an incredible feeling that I share with my coach, I share with my husband, with my family, just everyone that’s been a part of this,” Kiefer said. “I wish I could chop it up in little pieces and distributed it to everyone I love.”

Fencing has had a hold on her family.

Her father, Steve, was a fencing captain at Duke. Her older sister, Alex, was an NCAA champion at Harvard. Her younger brother, Axel, has competed in the junior worlds. Kiefer said she was inspired by her father.

“Before I left, my dad wrote me a card, and he said that we have been on this journey. We have done our best and our pot of gold has been filled all along as we moved along and just being here is the icing on top,” she said.

“I just feel so much love and I have so much to give back to everyone. My dad pushed me from the beginning. We used to bump heads all the time because we are both so competitive and demand excellence, but here we are. Thank you, dad.”

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