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Chamley-Watson becomes first U.S. man to win world title

By Daniel Bases

(Reuters) - Miles Chamley-Watson won the men's foil at the World Championships on Friday, becoming the first American man to win an individual world title in fencing.

The 23-year-old Chamley-Watson clinched the championship when he beat Russia's Artur Akhmatkhuzin 15-6 in the gold medal match in Budapest.

Ranked 17th coming into the competition, Chamley-Watson was forced to compete in the preliminary rounds earlier in the week but sailed through undefeated to join his three higher-ranked teammates in the main event.

"I'm beyond happy right now," Chamley-Watson told Reuters by telephone before the medal ceremony. "I'm world champion. I have to get used to saying that.

"I was happy I was able to break the seal. That was very cool."

The lanky right-hander joined a rare circle of American fencing champions who have started to transform the United States into a force on the world fencing circuit.

Mariel Zagunis is the only other individual world champion from the U.S. She won the world title in 2009 and 2010, in addition to winning the individual gold medal at the Athens and Beijing Olympics.

She finished fifth in Budapest, where competition finishes August 12. The U.S. men won the epee team gold at last year's world championships in Kiev.

The men's individual foil event in Budapest was turned upside-down with the elimination of the top seeded fencers before the semi-final round.

World number one, Andrea Baldini of Italy, ended up 17th while London Olympic gold medalist Sheng Lei of China took sixth. Chamley-Watson had placed 25th in Olympics.

London-born Chamley-Watson won three key direct-elimination matches by a solitary point on his way to being crowned champion.

In the round of 32, he beat Giorgio Avola of Italy 15-14; then in the round of 16, he snuck up on world number three, Alexey Cheremisinov, with a simple direct attack to the Russian's right shoulder for a 15-14 victory.

In his quarter-final against Germany's Sebastian Bachmann, Chamley-Watson was down by seven touches, or points. He fought his way back to win, again by a score of 15-14.

Chamley-Watson provided a payback for his teammate Alexander Massialas, who lost a controversial bout against Italy's Valerio Aspromonte 15-14.

"I wanted to help my teammate back. I'm so happy. I couldn't let Aspromonte beat two Americans," he said, having won the semi-final 15-9.

In foil, the lightest of the three weapons that include epee and saber, the valid points known as touches, are scored only with the point of the blade on the front and back of the torso.

Matches, or bouts, are fenced up to 15 touches, in three minute periods up to a total of nine minutes.

(Reporting by Daniel Bases in New York; editing by Julian Linden)

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