Lee Kiefer ready to pursue Olympic gold and then restart med school at UK

Published 4:15 pm Wednesday, April 10, 2024

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After she became the first American to win an Olympic gold medal in fencing during the Olympics in Tokyo at age 27, Lee Kiefer of Lexington was not sure what she would do about the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

Both Kiefer and her husband, accomplished fencer Gerek Meinhardt, are both in medical school at the University of Kentucky and will restart their third year of med school after the Paris Olympics this summer.

“I was trying to figure out what direction my life was going after Tokyo. I really wanted to keep fencing because I still love it and enjoy doing it. I felt like I could keep growing my skills, my routine,” Kiefer, a Paul Laurence Dunbar High School graduate, said. “However, the biggest obstacle was the UK College of Medicine. I was not sure they would let me continue, which would have been totally understandable.”

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Kiefer’s friends told her she needed to ask UK officials rather than “panic” since she obviously wanted to compete in her fourth Olympics.

“My husband also felt the same way. We thought through the timeline and decided to keep fencing and came up with a logical proposal. We talked to the dean and here we are (still competing).”

Kiefer took foil bronze at the world championships in Italy last summer matching her bronze medals from 2011 and 2002. She also had four team medals in worlds and her seven total world medals ties her husband for second most for any U.S. fencer.

Her first two years of med school were mainly classroom lectures. Both Kiefer and her husband had completed about half of their third year when they took a leave for the Tokyo Olympics.

“Your last two years are in the hospital, so I will come back and restart my third year. We plan to rematriculate in June of 2025 when the semester starts after we have had some to re-study,” the Olympic gold medalist said. “We know it won’t be easy, but that’s what we plan to do.”

Kiefer has never backed away from a challenge. She has won 22 World Cup medals, including five golds. She was a four-time NCAA champion at Notre Dame and nine-time individual Pan American champion. She entered 2024, ranked No. 1 in the world.

“I’ve had some of my best seasons since Tokyo. I am competing with a lot of confidence and joy,” she said. “I have really been able to train and treat fencing professionally. I am eating healthy, doing my strength and conditioning training.”

However, preparing for a fourth Olympics — her first one was 2012 in London — is a bit surreal considering the year-long qualification process involving 13 tournaments where past results don’t lock anyone into an Olympic berth.

“That’s why you have to keep grinding and can’t think about Paris until it is ready to happen,” she said.

When Kiefer does compete in Paris, she admits she has changed in some ways since winning the gold medal but not in other ways.

“I don’t know if it is applicable to other sports but sometimes it can be how your body is or how referees are and then you tend to do certain things more often. Compared to when I was younger or even a few years ago, I do more defensive action. I am still an aggressive attacker in my heart and soul and think I am a little more versatile fencer.”

Kiefer and Meinhardt have been featured by NBC-TV in the promotions for the Paris games where Kiefer has a chance to become only the second U.S. fencer to win multiple Olympic gold medals in any individual event. If she just medals the Lexington resident would be just the third U.S. fencer to win individual medals at multiple Olympics.

“I have the belief and skills to do it (win gold). I am not going to put pressure on myself but I will admit I wear my heart on my sleeve more than when I was younger,” she said. “I know I can do it, and it’s going to be hard, I want to freaking go for it.

“When I was more of an underdog, it was like, ‘I can beat anyone.’ And now that I’m the old one, I am still like, ‘I can beat anyone but I also know anyone can beat me.’ I’m not scared of it, but it’s just a reminder to not get comfortable.”