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

Published 2:19 pm Thursday, April 11, 2024

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.”


Couch was almost a Vol


Soon, former University of Kentucky legend Tim Couch will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. However, the former Leslie County star really wanted to play for Tennessee, not Kentucky.

“I committed to Tennessee in high school and backed out of the verbal commitment. I went to UK because of my dad. He wanted me to go there. At the time I did not understand why,” Couch said. “It wasn’t a great fit for me. Me and dad, there was some tension and arguments.”

Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer came to Hyden for a home visit and Couch’s father walked out of the meeting.

“It was one of the most awkward situations ever. We were sitting in the living room. I told coach Fulmer I was ready to come and commit. He said, ‘Great,’ and dad leaves the room and takes off. They were stunned and told me they had never had a parent leave like that before.

“My dad was one of a kind. He had a unique personality. He was stubborn and hard headed. He believed I should be at Kentucky and fortunately it all worked out.”

They reached an agreement where Tim would go to Kentucky but if year one did not go well under coach Bill Curry he could transfer to Tennessee.

“I called Dad halfway through the year and told him I was going to Tennessee. My brother called Tennessee and said I was transferring. They told me I could come, redshirt and then take over as the starter,” Couch said.

Kentucky went 4-7 in 1996, Couch’s freshman season and Curry’s last season. Athletics director CM Newton knew Couch was going to transfer and he asked Couch to give him time to find a coach that could better utilize his passing talents.

“I waited and he called me and said, ‘I got a guy, Hal Mumme.’ I wonder who is Hal Mumme. I had never heard of him or Valdosta State (where Mumme was coaching). But the first time I met him I knew it would work. He described his system and it looked like what I ran in high school. I told C.M. I was staying.

“I had so much confidence in coach Mumme. He made you believe in him. I knew we had the talent on the team to run that shotgun, spread offense. We just had not been able to go out and be the type of players we were.”

Couch said he was lucky not only to play for Mumme but assistant coach Mike Leach, Tony Franklin, Chris Hatcher and Sonny Dykes.

“Those guys were all great to me and they all went out and did great things,” Couch said. “That system is still thriving thanks to them and others using it now.”

Couch noted that successful NFL quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff and Baker Mayfield are in systems with Air Raid tendencies.

“Coach Mumme and those guys at Kentucky were ahead of the times and that really benefited me,” Couch said. “It was a loose atmosphere but he (Mumme) would absolutely get on people. He had a great sense for when to push guys and when to back off. There were very few people then who believed in the Air Raid but we knew we could go into a game and light up people because we had one of the best offenses in the country.”


2025 Ky. girls class is loaded


New Kentucky women’s basketball coach Kenny Brooks knows that three of the nation’s top juniors — Sacred Heart’s ZaKiyah Johnson (No. 5), Bethlehem’s Leah Macy (No. 8) and George Rogers Clark’s Ciara Byars (No. 37) — are in the Bluegrass.

There’s also rising star Grace Mbugua, a 6-5 center at Danville Christian Academy who has received 15 offers, including Kentucky, since her play at the state tournament.

At his introductory press conference, I asked Brooks what his philosophy would be about in-state recruiting as he tries to restock the Kentucky roster.

“When you think about Kentucky, you think about basketball,” the former Virginia Tech coach said. “We definitely understand the importance of keeping in-state players at home.

“We also understand the importance of fit. We will look at all of it and make sure it’s going to be a great fit. Because sometimes situations, some kids just want to get away. We’ve encountered that in the state of Virginia where we have recruited and we want to make sure everything’s going to be a good fit.

“We know it is a rich country with basketball. And we definitely are aware of the young ladies (in Kentucky). We’ve actually been recruiting some of the young ladies to the point that we had conversations. We understand the importance of it and that’s going to be a priority for us but it will also be very important that we make sure everything is a good fit for our program.”

Brooks quickly found four familiar good fits for his first UK team when all-ACC guard Georgia Amoore and 6-5 center Clara Strack both transferred from Virginia Tech to UK and junior college standout Amelia Hassett and high school senior Lexi Blue flipped their commitments from Tech to UK.