Gerek Meinhardt: Olympic fencer and medical student

Article by Tokyo 2020

Away from the glitz and glamour of the Olympic Games, dozens of athletes subsidise their sports career by having other jobs. From farming to banking, Tokyo 2020 looks at several hopefuls aiming to make an impact next summer and what roles they have outside of competition. This week, Team USA's Olympic bronze medallist Gerek Meinhardt, who balances life as a fencer with first-year medical studies.

His athlete life

Fencing is a sport that demands surgical precision. And so it is perhaps apt that Rio 2016 bronze medallist Gerek Meinhardt is now studying to become a doctor at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.

Meinhardt is a foil fencing veteran, having already competed in three Olympic Games and is preparing for his fourth in Tokyo. He was something of a fencing prodigy, becoming the youngest ever men's national foil champion when he took the top prize in the tournament in 2007 when he was just 16. Only a year later, he got his first taste of the Olympics when he made the USA team for the Beijing 2008 Games - making him the youngest fencer ever to turn out for the United States.

A further Olympic appearance beckoned at London 2012, but it was at Rio 2016 that Meinhardt really turned promise into world-class performances.

As part of a four-man team, Meinhardt who was ranked world no.3 at the time, helped the USA beat Italy 45-31 to win their first team foil medal since Los Angeles 1932.

Now with Tokyo 2020 little over six months away, Meinhardt is preparing for a fourth appearance at the Games, having qualified in February 2020.

He will become the first American fencer to make four Olympic teams since Mike Marx competed in his last Olympics at Atlanta 1996.

His professional life

Incredibly enough, Meinhardt is not the only Olympic fencer in his household. His wife, 26-year-old Lee Kiefer, placed fifth at London 2012 and is currently ranked no.5 in the world.

Hailing from a family of doctors, Kiefer inspired Meinhardt to pursue his professional ambitions by enrolling in a medical degree at the University of Kentucky. Kiefer is now in her third year of studies at the University, while Meinhardt is taking his initial steps as a first-year student.

Having previously earned an MBA degree and working in the business world, Meinhardt thought long and hard about making the switch to medicine - especially because, at 30 he is older than most of his classmates.

As he told Teamusa.org: “I did some shadowing and speaking with the physicians about what their lives were like, pros and cons and eventually decided, with their help, that I shouldn’t worry about making a change too late in my life, even though I was going to be a non-traditional student and a bit older than my classmates.”

But perhaps the biggest deciding factor was the year 2020 itself - and in particular the postponement of the Olympic Games. The break from competition caused by COVID-19 has meant that Meinhardt now has the time to study for a career in medicine.

And if he is ever required to draw upon experiences of medical injuries during his studies, he need look no further than himself.

"Multiple times I said that I was going to go through one more quadrennial and retire and be happy with what I accomplished and that it was time to let my body have a break because I did have all these chronic injuries," he told Team USA. "So in that sense I am very surprised, and from my second Olympics on I’ve always been grateful every day for every tournament I’ve been able to compete in."

Meinhardt will compete in the Olympic Fencing competition one last time in Tokyo before continuing his quest to become a qualified medical doctor.

Read the original 'day in the life' article by Tokyo 2020 here.

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