Épée: Budapest gears up for final Olympic qualification GP

With eight countries qualified for each of the men’s and women’s Olympic team epee events, all eyes will be on Budapest this weekend, where the final Rio ranking points are up for grabs for the individual disciplines.

For Rio, each country gets to enter a team of four athletes, three of whom can also fence in the individual event. That ramps up the importance of the Budapest Grand Prix this weekend for those athletes whose nations have not qualified, and for those fencers who won’t make their country’s top three.

On the women’s side, China, Romania, Russia, Estonia, South Korea, the United States, Ukraine and France have qualified epee teams.

World No. 4 Sarra Besbes (TUN), goes into the event knowing that she has already done enough in the season to guarantee the African zonal place by ranking along with former Italian fencer, now representing Brazil, Nathalie Moellhausen, who has confirmed one of the two PanAm places. That leaves five additional places available - two for each of Asia and Europe and one remaining PanAm - which will be contested in Hungary.

World No. 1 Rosella Fiamingo (ITA) leads the charge for the two additional European zonal spots. Her ranking guarantees that she will achieve a minimum points tally of 161 for the season. With only one fencer per country able to qualify through this route, her teammate Mara Navarria is a threat but must win the event to have any chance of qualification. The permutations thereafter mean any of Emese Szasz (HUN), Emma Samuelsson (SWE) and three-time Olympian Britta Heidemann (GER) could make it to Rio.

Former British fencer Leonora MacKinnon, now fencing for Canada, currently occupies the remaining PanAm zonal spot by ranking. Her nearest rivals, Yamilka Rodriguez Quesada (CUB) and Eliana Lugo (VEN), would have to make a top-16 finish in Budapest to have a chance of overtaking the Canadian – something that they haven’t done all season. Others in with a shot include another Venezuela fencer, Lizzie Asis.

Nozomi Sato (JPN) is in pole position for the two Asian places by ranking and her first challenge will come from teammate Ayaka Shimookawa. With both Japanese fencers achieving top ten results this season, it’s sure to be a mouth-watering battle. Man Wai Vivien Kong (HKG) currently looks set to pick up the other Asian spot. Top four finishes from Joanna Halls (AUS), Assel Alibekova (KAZ) or Chialing Chang (TPE) would make them contenders.

On the men’s side, the situation is no less compelling. With France, Ukraine, Italy, Switzerland, Russia, South Korea, Hungary and Venezuela guaranteed to have three athletes fencing in the individual event in Rio, all seven of the additional spots available through world ranking are still up for grabs.

Kazuyasu Minobe (JPN) is leading the charge for the Asian zonal spots along with Yunlong Jiao (CHN), and a top four finish for either in Budapest would guarantee their passage to Rio. Elmir Alimzhanov (KAZ) and Zhen Li (CHN) are still in the race but require a minimum of a top eight finish in Hungary to give themselves a chance. Another Kazakh fencer, Dmitriy Alexanin, is also in the hunt but would need to finish in the top two to be a threat.

Bas Verwijlen (NED) and Nikolai Novosjolov (EST) occupy the European zonal berths going into the Grand Prix but need a top-eight finish and a win, respectively, to absolutely secure their positions. They are under threat from a number of other fencers though, including Patrick Jorgensen (DEN), Sten Priinits (EST), Joeerg Fiedler (GER) and Yuval Freilich (ISR). A top-four finish from one of two Germans – Constantin Boehm and Christoph Kneip – or Radoslav Zawrotniak (POL), Ido Herpe (ISR) or London 2012 individual silver medallist Bartosz Piasecki (NOR) could put them in contention too.

The PanAm battle is led by the American Jason Pryor. Three of his teammates are in the chasing pack: Benjamin Bratton, Yeisser Ramirez and Ariel Simmons, but they would need a minimum of a top 32, top eight and top four finish, respectively, to pose a threat. Maxime Brinck-Croteau (CAN) currently occupies the second PanAm spot and again it’s his teammates who pose a threat.

In Africa, Senegal’s Alexandre Bouzaid occupies the single zonal place available, but a top 16 finish from Egyptian, Ayman Fayez could be enough to threaten Bouzaid’s Olympic chances. Two other Egyptian fencers are also in the running but Mohammed Saif and Ahmed Elsaghir would need to make the top eight to have a chance.

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