Miles Chamley-Watson after winning his semifinal at the 2013 FIE World Championships on Aug. 9, 2013 in Budapest, Hungary.
|Miles Chamley-Watson reacts after winning the men's foil world title
on Aug. 9, 2013 in Budapest, Hungary.
On some levels, Miles Chamley-Watson fully understands that he’s created a huge, groundbreaking moment for U.S. fencing.
But it’s clear, based on his amazed expression, that he remains in a bit of shock when he says the words, “I’m the world champion.”
Chamley-Watson became the first American man to win an individual gold medal at the 2013 FIE World Championships when he took the foil title 15-6 over Artur Akhmatkhuzin of Russia Friday.
And that was just the start of Team USA’s medal haul in Budapest, Hungary. The men’s foil team finished second in Monday’s final, losing to top-seeded Italy. In addition to Chamley-Watson, the U.S. men’s foil team featured Gerek Meinhardt, Alex Massialas and Race Imboden. It is the first men’s team foil medal at the senior world championships for the United States, making it a truly historic competition.
“This is all just surreal, because I don’t think what has happened will totally sink in until I get on the airplane,” Chamley-Watson told TeamUSA.org, via Skype from Budapest, after the team final. “I mean, we’ve had a great year. We’ve won medals, but we’ve never gotten anything like getting a world championship. This is amazing. We’re all going to enjoy this — the silver medal is huge, too.”
Team USA also made history on the women’s side with the U.S. women’s saber team capturing its third consecutive senior world bronze medal.
Chamley-Watson, a 2012 Olympian, said the experience of winning a world championship inspires him to dream even bigger. Born in London and having moved to the United States when he was 8, Chamley-Watson has steadily risen through the ranks of international fencing. He competed at Penn State, represented Team USA at the London Games and now fences at the professional level. He entered the world championships ranked 17th in the world.
“This is honestly the best day of my life; I think I would take this over qualifying for the Olympics,” Chamley-Watson, 23, said. “Don’t get me wrong, being an Olympian is huge, like only 1 percent of people get to do that. But right now, the fact I won worlds is crazy, it’s huge.
“I want to win more world championships, I want to win the 2016 Olympics in Rio.”
His ambition is not limited to his own career, as he sees the strong performance from the entire U.S. team as a sign of emerging strength. The U.S. men’s foil team finished fourth in the London Games and the same lineup was present to take the 2013 world championships silver medal.
“I think this is an indication for other teams that we are going to be the one to look out for in Rio,” Chamley-Watson said. “We’ve shown what we can do as a team, and I think I have shown individually that I could win at the Olympics.”
Chamley-Watson’s path to the final was far from easy, as he won three matches by a single point. He had to stage comebacks for each of those consecutive wins, leaving him with a bold attitude for the semifinal and finals.
This was his fifth world championships appearance, with his previous best finish being fifth in 2010. His experience dictated something special was needed to win the competition.
“By then (the semifinals), I felt I was unstoppable, because what did I have to lose?” he said. “I wanted to be fearless, really go for it.”
He said the atmosphere during the final was electric, with few in the crowd knowing he was on the verge of making American fencing history. Instead, colleagues in the fencing community, such as competitors from Germany and Italy, and the loud Team USA contingent cheered him on.
He returned the favor of being a support during the team competition, as he became sidelined after his first match versus Canada. Chamley-Watson stepped backwards and felt something painfully pop in his left Achilles. He continued competing, essentially on one leg, but couldn’t pull out the win. He was advised by the medical staff to withdraw, to prevent further damage. Chamley-Watson’s Achilles should be fine with a little rest, ice and treatment.
So he cheered on his teammates during the rest of the competition, and reveled in the happy ending of being on the podium as the second-best team in the world.
“I think we’re all going to enjoy this — a lot,” he said. “This is just a huge thing for all of us to enjoy and celebrate.”
Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes regularly for the New York Times and other outlets about sports. She has written for TeamUSA.org since 2009 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.