Fencers Kel­ley and Court­ney Hur­ley take one more stab at 2020.

Hur­leys are in Bal­ti­more for this week­end’s na­tional cham­pi­onships

The Washington Post - - SPORTS - BY RICK MAESE

For months, the plan seemed sim­ple enough: Fencer Kel­ley Hur­ley would go to the 2016 Olympics, she would win a medal, and so would her younger sis­ter, Court­ney. She then would re­turn home, lay down her sword and em­bark on a new life as a med­i­cal school stu­dent.

But like her sis­ter, Kel­ley lost in her first epee bout of the Rio Games. Five days later, they lost out in the team com­pe­ti­tion, too. The Hur­ley sis­ters came home empty-handed, but Kel­ley felt some­thing inside still burn­ing.

Eight months later, Kel­ley is not in med­i­cal school. She’s still train­ing, her sights set firmly on a fourth Sum­mer Olympics. The road there be­gins in earnest this week­end. Both Kel­ley and Court­ney will be com­pet­ing at the na­tional cham­pi­onships, which run Fri­day through Mon­day in Bal­ti­more.

Last sum­mer as they were pro­cess­ing the dis­ap­point­ment from the Rio com­pe­ti­tion, the sis­ters hung around the city and soaked in the Olympic at­mos­phere. Kel­ley slowly started to re­al­ize it wasn’t yet time to walk away from the sport.

“I just be­gan to re­ally think that I’m not re­ally ready to quit yet,” said Hur­ley, who is try­ing for her fifth na­tional epee ti­tle this week­end. “I did want to take a break, but I felt there was so much more out there.”

The sis­ters at­tended Clos­ing Cer­e­monies in Rio and saw the spec­ta­cle put on by the 2020 Tokyo or­ga­niz­ers. The pull was too strong. “It re­ally just made me think: I want to make it four. I want to see what Tokyo has,” Kel­ley said.

The de­ci­sion is one most Olympians face when the NBC cam­eras go dark and the pageantry ends. For many, con­tin­u­ing in their sport means de­lay­ing other plans. In chas­ing gold, Olympic ath­letes of­ten post­pone work­ing to­ward ca­reers or build­ing fam­i­lies or pur­su­ing more lu­cra­tive en­deav­ors. Kel­ley was locked into med­i­cal school af­ter the Rio Games. Now that’s on hold. “Maybe med school isn’t the ul­ti­mate goal,” she says now.

Kel­ley is wrap­ping up her mas­ter’s de­gree in pub­lic health this sum­mer, and Court­ney, 26, is pur­su­ing her mas­ter’s in busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion. For both, tak­ing aim at the Tokyo Games is a full-time pur­suit. The sis­ters will spend six hours a day in train­ing and even more time study­ing film or in the gym.

“For some­thing like fenc­ing, you have to fo­cus 100 per­cent all the time,” Court­ney said.

The two San An­to­nio na­tives have set­tled into nearby Houston, where they bought a house to­gether not far from their train­ing fa­cil­ity. They in­tend to spend more time dis­sect­ing video — of them­selves and op­po­nents — than ever be­fore.

“I think we’re go­ing to fo­cus on all as­pects of train­ing, not just fenc­ing and foot­work,” Court­ney said. “But swim­ming, weights, men­tal health, ev­ery­thing.”

Court­ney en­ters this week­end’s com­pe­ti­tion ranked sec­ond in the coun­try and Kel­ley third. They will be joined in Bal­ti­more by eight other Olympians, in­clud­ing Wash­ing­ton’s Kat Holmes and New Jer­sey’s Ibti­haj Muham­mad, and scores of other Olympic hope­fuls.

Kel­ley, who just turned 29, is well aware that in women’s epee es­pe­cially, com­peti­tors tend to peak in their 30s, and she feels like she’s only get­ting bet­ter, smarter and more ef­fi­cient on the strip and off. She was just 20 years old when she com­peted at the 2008 Olympics, the lone Amer­i­can woman to qual­ify in epee. She com­peted at the Lon­don Games four years later as a re­place­ment and helped the United States win bronze in the team event, com­pet­ing along­side her sis­ter.

“I feel like now we have a much bet­ter idea of the proper way to train,” Kel­ley said. “That’s what we re­ally want to try for Tokyo — a new and im­proved train­ing reg­i­men.”

Stick­ing with the sport means that the sis­ters will con­tinue to be close to each other. They had trained side-by-side since they were small, coached by their fa­ther, Bob Hur­ley, and both at­tended Notre Dame. Four more years on the strip also means Kel­ley will have a chance to walk away from the sport on a much higher note.

“I’ve seen magic; I’ve seen it hap­pen,” Kel­ley says. “I’ve seen Court­ney and I and our team pull off some amaz­ing vic­to­ries. I re­ally feel a medal is ob­tain­able.”

HAN­NAH PETERS/GETTY IMAGES

Kel­ley Hur­ley, left, and sis­ter Court­ney Hur­ley won the bronze medal in the team event at the 2012 Olympic Games in Lon­don.

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