Maya Lawrence pulled an upset in her opening bout in the individual epee at the London Olympics last month but ended up being angry with herself for getting eliminated in the next round.
“I performed well but had a bad second bout,” said Lawrence, a 2002 Princeton University grad and former fencing star for the Tigers who topped Italy’s Maria Navarria 15-12 in the Round of 32 before losing 15-7 to Rossella Flamingo of Italy in the next round.
“Navarria was No. 7 or 9 in the world so on paper she was a stronger fencer. I was training to win the first bout. It was really exciting to win the first bout, maybe too exciting. I didn’t have time to process emotions.”
Days later, Lawrence experienced an emotional high she won’t ever forget, helping the U.S. to bronze in the team epee event as it topped Russia 31-30 in the third-place match. It was the first-ever medal for the U.S. in the event.
“We were all really excited; we had been through a lot and being able to get a medal at the ends was great,” said Lawrence, who was joined on the team by Princeton junior Susie Scanlan together with sisters Courtney and Kelley Hurley.
“It is an individual sport and we are used to competing against each other. I was proud that we were able to come together. You have to stop and regroup and be a team. We did team-building and we managed personalities.”
As 2012 dawned, Lawrence had the sense that the epee team could build into something special.
“In January, I had a feeling that something big was going to happen,” said Lawrence.
“Teams that had been beating us badly weren’t beating us by that much. In the World Cup event in April outside Paris, we got second. That was the best U.S. finish and, on paper, showed that we were capable.”
For Lawrence, it was fitting that the U.S. did well in France as she lives and trains in Paris.
“I have been there for seven years,” said Lawrence, who trains with Maitre Daniel Lavavasseur.
“I knew that I wanted to train in France; I had been training in the French school with Michel [former Princeton coach Michel Sebastiani]. It is a great place to train. I have great guys to train with. We have fencers from different countries.”
The influence of Sebastiani, a master of traditional French fencing technique who runs Sebastiani Fencing Academy in Princeton, helped spur Lawrence to keep competing on an international level.
“I am not sure I would have continued; he was the only one who thought I could do this,” said Lawrence, a native of Teaneck, N.J., who was a four-time All-Ivy League selection and an All-American during her Tiger career.
“He was the most emotionally supportive coach I have had, expressing to me that I had the ability to do this. He always told me to keep working.”
Lawrence had to work hard to finally qualify for the Olympics, having fallen short in 2004 and 2008.
During the Opening Ceremony at the London Games, the magnitude of making the Olympics hit Lawrence.
“At first, I didn’t feel anything but then I saw a training partner, a Tunisian,” said Lawrence. “We had shed a lot of blood, sweat, and tears together. We started bawling.”
Competing together on the U.S. team with fellow Princeton standout Scanlan has been a good feeling for Lawrence.
“I graduated way before she did; we have never been on a team before,” said Lawrence.
“We get along pretty well. She is really good at motivating the team. She is mature beyond her years.”
The U.S. epee team brought plenty of motivation into the competition in London. “The whole second half of the season we have been talking to each other saying that we could do it,” said Lawrence.
“We were definitely the underdogs. There were probably only five or six people in the room that thought we could do it. All the teams that were supposed to get a medal lost in the first round.”
The U.S. pulled an upset in the quarterfinals, topping Italy 45-35 but then stumbled in the semifinals as it fell 45-36 to South Korea.
“Romania was seeded No. 1 and they had lost,” said Lawrence, reflecting on the loss to South Korea.
“This was the tableau of our dream and we couldn’t miss this chance. But we were fencing not to lose, we were to cautious against South Korea.”
In the bronze medal match, the U.S. faced Russia and pulled out a 31-30 triumph.
“We had beaten them a year ago but they had beaten us badly since,” said Lawrence.
“We went back to the strategy that beat them. We didn’t think that we had to run after them. We wanted to be cautious but aggressive when opportunities to score came up.”
In the aftermath of their achievement, Lawrence and her teammates got to soak up the scene around London over the last week of the Summer Games.
“We had some free time to go out and celebrate and see other events,” said Lawrence. “We did a lot of interviews; it was fun to be there without the stress of competition.”
Lawrence, now 32, plans to keep competing with an eye to possibly taking part in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
“I have goals,” said Lawrence. “I am No. 19 individually, I would like to be in the top 16. I would like to do better in World Cup events and the World Championships.”