LONDON - The epee is not for the faint of heart. Many bouts are decided by only one or two touches of the sword, something Susie Scanlan knows well from her years of competing in that fencing discipline.
She found herself on the wrong side of such a margin Monday, losing 15-13 to Olena Kryvytska of Ukraine in her opening match at the Olympics. Scanlan, of St. Paul, took a 2-0 lead, then fell behind, rallied and came up just short at ExCel London. That knocked her out of the women's individual epee competition, but Scanlan still has the team event Saturday.
Scanlan and coach Ro Sobalvarro both were emotional after her loss, but both also were eager to get back on the piste. So were U.S. teammates Maya Lawrence, who won her opening bout and finished 16th, and Courtney Hurley, who lost to five-time Olympic medalist Laura Flessel-Colovic of France in her opener.
"I couldn't find the timing,'' said Scanlan, a first-time Olympian. "I was fencing well, which makes it that much more frustrating that I lost. My main goal was to fight for the whole bout, which I did. I can't beat myself up.''
Scanlan and Kryvytska provided plenty of drama at the fencing venue, in a back-and-forth bout between two athletes who have faced one another many times. Scanlan thought Kryvytska seemed a little dazed by the large and often-loud crowd, and Scanlan played the aggressor at first. Twice, she lunged in to score touches, looking smooth and controlled.
That was what Sobalvarro wanted her to do. But he noted that holding onto a lead -- particularly in a high-pressure environment such as the Olympics -- is tremendously difficult. When Scanlan grew a bit cautious, Kryvytska got into a groove, scoring four touches in a row.
Scanlan chalked up two of those to her own tactical errors. In the second period, she tied the score 8-8 but never could regain the lead.
When she came off the piste, her teammates were there to comfort her -- and remind her there is more fencing yet to come. Sobalvarro said he and Scanlan had already had a moment of minor fame, when First Lady Michelle Obama visited a practice a few days ago. As she was giving television interviews, Scanlan and Sobalvarro fenced in the background.
Sobalvarro was happy to see that Scanlan had particularly good hand position. He hopes to see it again Saturday, when the U.S. will be one of eight teams fencing for a medal.
"She bounces back fast,'' he said. "And it's always been about the team. They're a good group.''