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Lee Kiefer wins Olympic fencing gold while in med school

Kiefer is the first American to win a gold medal in the individual foil and the first Asian American woman to win a fencing gold in general.
/ Source: NBC News

Lee Kiefer became the first American to take an Olympic gold medal in individual foil fencing after her victory in Tokyo on Sunday. And the 27-year-old, who hails from Kentucky, did it all while still in medical school.

“I still don’t feel like it’s real,” she told the TODAY after her win. “My happiness comes from the joy of my coach and my family at this point.”

Kiefer, who is Filipina American and the first Asian American woman to win fencing gold, previously competed in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics without winning a medal at either one. But after a close match against Russian competitor and 2016 gold winner Inna Deriglazova on Sunday, Kiefer came out on top with a 15-13 win. Her win was the third gold medal for the U.S.

Kiefer celebrates after defeating Inna Deriglazova of Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) in the Women's fencing final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on July 25, 2021.Alexander Safonov / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Fencing is a family sport for Kiefer — her siblings and father are athletes who all played to some degree. Her husband, Gerek Meinhardt, is a three-time Olympic fencer who took home the bronze medal in team foil in the Rio Games.

“I actually remember pulling out my computer in the middle of the night and watching my now-husband fence in Beijing 2008 [when I was 14],” Kiefer wrote in an NBC Sports questionnaire. “I did not know him at the time nor did I even contemplate being an Olympian one day.”

During her interview with "TODAY," she looked to Meinhardt, who stood off-camera, and described how much the moment meant to them after only having each other for practice during the pandemic.

“We’ve been chipping away at this for a decade,” Kiefer said. “It’s our dream to be here together.”

Lee Kiefer celebrates with her gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on July 25, 2021.Alexander Safonov / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Placing fifth in London and 10th in Rio, Kiefer told NBC News in 2016 that the likelihood of her returning to the Olympics in 2020 was slim. She wanted to focus on medical school and her career as a doctor instead. Though she did enroll in medical school at the University of Kentucky, she said the time off from competition helped her build the confidence that brought her to the gold.

“I was like, ‘What happened?’ I didn’t fence at the Olympics like this, and now I’m having all this confidence and new love for fencing,” she said on a University of Kentucky podcast in 2019.

Her gold medal makes her only the second woman in U.S. history to win a gold medal in fencing. The first was Mariel Zagunis in 1904.