United States fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad talks with journalists during a press conference she held ahead of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
 
The United States has never been considered a worldwide force in fencing.
 
That perception could change by the end of next week.
 
The U.S. won only one medal, a bronze in women's team epee, at the London Games in 2012. But it looks poised to compete for a slew of medals when the Olympic fencing tournament begins Saturday in Rio.
 
Top-ranked Alexander Massialas is favored to become the first American to win a gold medal in foil _ and he and his countrymen could easily make it a sweep in the team event. 
 
The U.S. women's sabre team, headlined by groundbreaking Muslim fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, is ranked fourth in the world.
 
Women's foil star Lee Kiefer has won a medal in of her last four major competitions, including a gold in Panama in June.   
 
But perhaps the biggest boost the Americans could receive in Rio is from Mariel Zagunis, the best women's fencer the nation has ever known.
 
After winning gold in 2004 and 2008, Zagunis was fourth in London. Zagunis, 31, hasn't lost the touch that has made her a 10-time world medalist though, finishing second in each of her last two major events. 
 
"It was the most amazing thing to win the Olympics twice in a row and to not have that experience the third time is the most difficult experience you can imagine. But that's in the past and I've been focusing on Rio for the past four years," Zagunis said.