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This Half-Filipina Just Won a Historic Gold Medal in Fencing for Team USA

Lee Kiefer, whose mom is from Davao, makes history as the first American to win an Olympic fencing gold.
This Half-Filipina Just Won a Historic Gold Medal in Fencing for Team USA
IMAGE instagram/usfencing
Lee Kiefer, whose mom is from Davao, makes history as the first American to win an Olympic fencing gold.

A family from Davao is celebrating a gold medal won by the United States in fencing at the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday night.


The fencer is Fil-Am Lee Kiefer, who ruled the women's individual foil event to become the first American woman to win an Olympic medal in that discipline.

The 27-year old Kiefer, whose mother Dr. Teresa Oropilla Kiefer hails from Tagum City, beat Inna Deriglazova of Russia, 15-13, in the gold-medal match.

Lee's triumph reverberated not only in the US but also in Davao City and Tagum City as the eminent Bacani-Oropilla clan celebrated her triumph - a journey that began in 2012 in London as a young 18-year old, followed by another futile try in Rio in 2016.

"Oh my God, Lee just won the gold!" Dr. Janice Bacani-Carandang told in a message moments after the historic win.

PHOTO BY instagram/usfencing

Members of the Bacani-Oropilla clan are now organizing a virtual Thanksgiving Party led by 92-year old matriarch Teresita, a retired pediatrician/psychiatrist now based in Louisville, Kentucky.


It wasn't an easy journey for Kiefer

After two unsuccessful stints in the Olympics, she married longtime boyfriend and fellow US fencer Gerek Meinhardt and admitted entertaining thoughts of abandoning her Olympic dream.

Like in most Filipino families, the dream was not hers alone. It was the entire family's. A year after her stint in the Rio Olympics, 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.

In March, however, Kiefer withdrew from medical school to focus on preparing for the Tokyo Games. She bared plans to resume her studies next March.

"Rocky Balboa Training"

With the onset of the pandemic, Kiefer had to be creative just to be able to train. When COVID-19 kept her from visiting her club in Louisville, she practiced on a fencing strip in her parents’ basement.

The Kiefers are a fencing family. Her father, Steve, was 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 the 2019 NCAA championship in foil fencing for Notre Dame.

The fencing family is bound to grow even bigger, too. Her husband is also a national fencer. They were teammates at Notre Dame and graduated before marrying in 2019.

Meinhardt won an Olympic bronze medal as part of the US men’s team at the 2016 Olympics. He headed into the foil competition in Tokyo ranked No. 2 in the foil event. On Sunday night, though, his focus was solely on his wife.

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But there is no doubt Kiefer, who last visited the Philippines when she was six, is proud of her Filipino heritage, too.

On Sunday, a London-based aunt wrote a note in the Support Map message board and tucked it on the USA map. But Lee said to put it on the Philippine map, she said.


*This story originally appeared on Spin.phMinor edits have been made by the editors.

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