Top British fencing duo Richard Kruse and Laurence Halsted failed to reach the last 16 of the European Championships in Sheffield.
The pair, expected to lead GB's bid for medals at London 2012, had been tipped to reach the podium at this event.
"The boys will be hugely disappointed with their performances. We know they can compete better," said British performance director Alex Newton.
No GB female sabre fencers reached the last eight in Thursday's other event.
The results will concern British Fencing after similar disappointment at last year's World Championships in Paris, which Kruse missed through injury.
Having returned to the squad for the European Championships at Sheffield's English Institute of Sport, the 27-year-old veteran of two Olympics was narrowly defeated by Poland's Pawel Kawiecki, the world number 54.
Kruse is currently ranked 14th having spent time out with a foot problem, but has been ranked higher in the past.
Halsted, ranked 50th going into the event, lost to Italian world number 11 Giorgio Avola.
Jamie Kenber also reached the last 32 before being beaten by Italy's Andrea Baldini, while Ed Jefferies lost to France's Marcel Marcilloux a round earlier.
"We were seeing it as a warm-up to the Olympics," Halsted told BBC Sport.
"The best possible preparation we could have is a home championships like this - you can't prepare for the people and the crowd in any other way.
"You can hope to hit the heights at the Olympics, but we'd much rather be going in knowing we're going to do it.
"We've known from the beginning that the funding we've had so far, and could get in the future, depends on our results at the Olympics.
"It'd be a shame if we did all this work to become a professional outfit and then couldn't deliver and push on."
Kruse and Halsted will return on Sunday for the men's foil team event, Britain's other main hope of an Olympic medal next year.
Newton, who was appointed in May following the departure of predecessor Graham Watts last year, said: "We'll sit down, re-focus, look at what we could have done better.
"Were our tactics and our preparation right? We were confident of performances and those haven't turned out today so there is some really hard work to be done now."
Chrystall Nicoll was the sole British fencer to reach the last 16 of the women's individual sabre event before a defeat at the hands of Hungary's Reka Benko.
Nicoll had beaten GB team-mate Sophie Williams to face Benko, while Jo Hutchison and Louise Bond-Williams went out to French opponents Carole Vergne and Leonore Perrus respectively in the last 64.
Beyond the men's foil team event, Jon Willis - who competes in fencing's third and final discipline, epee - is one of few remaining realistic medal hopes at European level. He competes on Friday.
The standard at the European Championships is among the toughest in fencing, owing to the quality of Europe's fencers and the number allowed to compete.
The Olympics and World Championships place harsher limits on the number of athletes per nation.
Britain has not won an Olympic fencing medal since the Tokyo Games of 1964, when Bill Hoskyns took silver in the men's individual epee contest.