It might have helped had the United States Olympic men’s epee team not blown the team competition. They went into the third round up against Japan by seven touches. They ended up losing by six touches, Curtis McDowald giving up eight touches in his final bout, as he stood there, dancing, watching, guaranteeing that the US would lose.
It happens that you lose. It happens that you get beaten. That’s the nature of fencing, of sports. But you don’t go down without a fight. You don’t lose standing there watching your seven touch lead disappear. There was a fourth person on the team, the alternate, but he never got to fence. Maybe the others were tired, worn down by the competition. Maybe the fourth fencer, who is also an excellent epee, wouldn’t have given up eight touches in the final bout. But apparently, he was fencer non grata by his own teammates.
#TeamUSA men’s epee team wore pink masks for their opening match at the Olympics as a show of support for sexual assault victims. Alen Hadzic— their teammate accused of rape and sexual assault— is on the left. Kudos to the team for taking a stand. #BelieveWomen pic.twitter.com/yRI4azelKN
— Ibtihaj Muhammad (@IbtihajMuhammad) July 30, 2021
When Alen Hadzic fenced for Columbia, he was accused of nonconsenual sex in a Title IX proceeding and suspended for a year. While his lawyer isn’t exactly giving up details, he suggested that this was a case of post-hoc regret, consent withdrawn after the fact. Hadzic was later accused of grabbing a woman’s butt.
It may be that the team fencers know more about what really happened then appears in the stories. Or it may be that they’re doing what all “decent” people do these days, believe accusations, condemn in perpetuity the offenders and put on a performance to prove their virtue.
On Friday, the men’s team conveyed their displeasure to the world, wearing pink face masks in support of sexual assault victims. It made for a striking image as Jake Hoyle, Curtis McDowald and Yeisser Ramirez appeared in the light-colored masks, while Hadzic was the odd-man-out in black.
Bold move, right? Except that they fenced with, practiced with, been around Hadzic all the time up until then. National level fencing is a small world, and they all train together, fence together, compete with one another, constantly. What relationship they had with Hadzic is unknown, although Jake Hoyle was on the Columbia fencing team with Hadzic and pretty much every epee of that caliber knows every other epee pretty well.* But there was no protest against him all those years, no shunning, no performance, until the Olympics.
Jackie Dubrovich, an Olympic fencer who was in Tokyo, called the move by her teammates “PERFORMATIVE ACTIVISM” on Instagram. She called for accountability.
“THE PEOPLE/SYSTEMS WHO ENABLED & PROTECTED A VIOLENT PREDATOR ARE NOT BEING HELD ACCOUNTABLE,” she wrote. “FEMALE ATHLETES WERE NOT PROTECTED & OUR SAFETY WAS DEEMED UNIMPORTANT.”
Dubrovich was a Columbia foil fencer. No doubt she knew that Hadzic had been suspended for a year. No doubt she also knew that when he was named as an alternate to the Olympic team, which is based on USFA scoring, he was attacked as a “violent predator” although there is nothing to suggest such a thing beyond the usual hyperbolic outrage of the conveniently passionate. Did Dubrovich believe that Hadzic was some psychotic wandering rapist around whom no woman could escape, or was her concern that women were so incapable of surviving proximity to Hadiz because they were so weak and fragile that his rapistness would overcome them?
It’s not merely nonsense, but nonsense that was replayed for the sake of taking this Olympic moment to damn Hadzic on the only significant stage a fencer is ever likely to enjoy. Ramirez, Hoyle and McDowald were Olympic epee fencers, even if they fenced for the fewest number of bouts possible. But while they couldn’t muster the fortitude to push their seven touch lead to beat Japan, they would not be denied their chance to put on pink masks in an effort to condemn their own teammate and show the world how woke they were.
Update: Whether this relates to any accusation against Hadzic, is accurate or is just facile piling on since it will never be tested is unclear, but this is the only substantive information I’ve seen.
Katya English, a former fencer who dated Hadzic on and off for about a year before and during their first year at college, said their last physical interaction in 2010 left her upset and shaken. During a sexual encounter in his dorm room, when she told him she wanted to stop, he berated and pressured her to continue, she recalled. Looking back at what happened to her when she was 18, she said she has “come to understand what happened to me was a form of sexual coercion.”
“If I were a woman in Tokyo, I would absolutely demand security if he was going to be on the premises,” said English, who now works at the East Los Angeles Women’s Center supporting survivors of rape and domestic abuse. She has also submitted a report to SafeSport.
H/T Chris Halkides
*Full disclosure: While my son trained with and competed against Hadzic, they were never friendly. Hadzic was a couple years older and not part of same crowd.