The US team's performance at this year's World Championships deserves study for the lessons it may offer for the London Olympics next year. Although, on the face of it, the results were disappointing, especially considering the miraculous promise of the medal outcomes of 2008, this is not the whole story. When we consider the quadrennium as a training cycle, US athletes are close enough to be within reach of a successful peak for 2012. There is work to be done, but we are not out of reach.
However, several things are happening that should give rise to concern. One hundred years ago fencing was a predominantly European sport - for years the European Championships was the World Championships. That is no longer the case. Countries that even 30 years ago had no presence in the fencing world are now regular contenders for positions in the individual rounds above 64, and the team rounds above 16. Fencing is a global sport, and the sheer numbers of fencing countries mean that any world level competition will be a more difficult slog to get to the rounds of 8 and semi-finals.
With this comes the reality of numbers. This is just a matter of population statistics. Individual coaches cannot produce World Championship and Olympic level fencers if the right talent does not walk through the door. It takes an amazing mix of the right genetics, intellgience, psychological strength, burning desire to do what it takes to be really good, and available money and time and family support to create an athlete at that level. With 20-30,000 competitive fencers in the United States we have a small pool to draw from. Measure that against the total number of fencers in the world, and it becomes obvious that the way to achieve results includes publicity and advocacy for our sport at every level.
If the US team and its individual fencers do not achieve the results we hope for, to some degree it is because we as fencers have done a poor job of selling our sport as a challenging, demanding way to athletic success. If they do achieve, it may well be in spite of how poorly American fencers have sold our sport.