Correction/Clarification: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the location of Kiefer's fencing club. She has trained with Bluegrass Fencers' Club in Lexington.
TOKYO – Lee Kiefer practiced on a fencing strip in her parents’ basement when COVID-19 kept her from visiting her club in Lexington, Kentucky.
On Sunday she fenced at the Tokyo Games – and became the first American woman to win an Olympic medal in individual foil.
A gold medal, at that.
Kiefer, 27, beat Inna Deriglazova of Russia in the gold medal match, 15-13.
“What just happened?’’ she said before congratulating her coach. “What just happened?’’
Among those watching the tightly contested bout was her husband, Gerek Meinhardt, a member of the U.S. men’s fencing team. They built the fencing strip in her parents’ basement together.
“Where is my husband?’’ Kiefer asked after the victory.
“I was here at the venue all day with her,’’ Meinhardt told USA TODAY Sports. “I was doing everything I could to help her out and keep her focused.’’
Later, Kiefer reflected on her post-match emotions – “I was so confused,’’ she said. “My coach was like sobbing in my arms. I was soaking it in but very much confused.’’ – and having had her husband with her throughout the day.
“Basically, it felt like he was out there fencing with me,’’ she said.
NEVER MISS A MEDAL: Sign up for our Olympic newsletter now
WANT BEHIND-THE-SCENES ACCESS IN TOKYO? Sign up for Olympic texts to get exclusive access to the Games
After failing to win an Olympic medal at the 2012 London Games and 2016 Rio Games, Kiefer said she thought her Olympic career was over.
That next year, she became the first American woman to earn the No. 1 world ranking in foil fencing, helping propel her toward the Tokyo Games. Along the way, she enrolled in medical school at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
During the pandemic Kiefer, who has trained with Bluegrass Fencers' Club in Lexington, was forced to practice in her parents’ basement. The idea of building the fencing strip surely struck her parents as the sensible thing to do.
At its core, the Kiefers are a fencing family.
Her father, Steve, was the captain of the fencing team at Duke. Her older sister, Alexandra, won the 2011 NCAA championship in foil fencing for Harvard. Her brother, Axel, finished runner-up in 2019 for NCAA championship in foil fencing for Notre Dame.
“We grew up training together,’’ Kiefer said. “We had so much fun. We had so many fights. Like, we are so close because of fencing.
“It still brings us together. It’s a joy for all of us.’’
Then there’s her husband.
Teammates at Notre Dame, they graduated before marrying in 2019. Now they have emerged as one of the sport’s most decorated couples.
Meinhardt won an Olympic bronze medal as part of the men’s team at the 2016 Olympics. He heads into the foil competition at the Tokyo Games on Monday ranked No. 2 in the world, but on Sunday night his focus was on his wife.
“It was incredible,’’ Meinhardt said. “I know how hard she works every day, how much she wants it, how important a part of our lives fencing is.’’
Important enough to build their own fencing strip when there was nowhere else to practice.
“It started out really exciting, and then after a few months it was like pulling teeth because no one’s in sight,’’ Kiefer said. “But we kept motivating each other. We held each other accountable, and eventually the world started to open back.’’
In March, Kiefer withdrew from medical school to focus on preparing for the Tokyo Games. She said plans to resume her studies next March, although she was slightly distracted Sunday night.
With a feeling she described as incredible.
“I wish could chop it up in little pieces and distribute it to everyone that I love,’’ Kiefer said.
Contributing: Shannon Russell of the Louisville Courier-Journal
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lee Kiefer makes history with gold in women's foil at Tokyo Olympics