Tuesday, August 5, 2008

the best ever

those who've been reading my blog know I'm a bit of a sports historian, what most excites me about sports is the occasional run of historically noteworthy peerlessness, whether it be Tiger Woods or Roger Federer or the 1998 Yankees or Orel Hershiser's scoreless streak. well, in college, I was lucky enough to be part of something like this, and since it's the 20th anniversary of my senior year, I'm going to indulge myself in some reminiscing (pretty sure self-indulgence is one of the main reason blogs exist)...

so, above is a picture of the 1986-1987 Columbia University men's fencing team. pictured are all nine starters as well as some of the substitutes/JV. a team consisted of three starters in each of three weapons: foil, épée, and sabre. regular season matches were determined by each of the nine starters fencing three bouts each, one against each of the other team's three starters, so 27 total bouts, whoever had 14 or more won.

unfortunately, I can't find specifics about this on the web, so I'm going to go from memory, and maybe someone who's Googled their name can help me out later, adding details I'm not remembering or fixing any mistakes I've made.

so, 1986-1987, my junior year. in my previous two years, we had lost two matches and finished third in the NCAAs (freshman) and gone undefeated and finished second in the NCAAs (sophomore). but we had a ton of talent coming back, some new studs coming in, and our goal was to finally win the NCAAs (the American collegiate national championships, for anyone who doesn't know). this was our team:

sabre: Bob Cottingham (co-captain), Chris Reohr, myself (co-captain), Dave Mandell
foil: Bill Mindel, Marc Kent, Ivan Fernandez-Madrid, Richard Newman
epee: Jon Normile, Marc Oshima, Jordan Foster, Michael Feldschuh

coaches: George Kolombatovich, Aladar Kogler, Joel Glucksman

these twelve ended up being named to the first-team All-Ivy a combined 25 times (in fencing, at least at that time, the Ivy League was so loaded that this was roughly equivalent to being first-team All-American) and won seven individual NCAA titles, amazingly enough from six different people. we won the NCAA championship easily in 1986-1987 (Columbia's first title in sixteen years), and returned all nine starters in 1987-1988, a year that we were truly dominant. some highlights:

1) one of the big preseason tournaments, the Temple Open, an individual competition where you could get a sense of how you stood compared to other people going into the year. the sabre competition ended up that the top four were all from Columbia: if I recall correctly, Bob beat Chris and I beat Dave in the semis, then Bob beat me for first. this is from that day:

(L to R): Dave, Chris, me, Bob

as a side note, Dave was so good already by this point that he finished in the top 16 in the National Championships at the end of the season (not collegiate, overall, the way they pick the Olympic team), but he couldn't crack our starting lineup, even though he went on to win the NCAA championship the next season, and the overall national championship soon after.

2) we beat Duke 27-0, coining a team phrase going forward: "we Duked them."

3) the NCAA had changed their rules (again) for this season, and only the top finisher in each weapon would count towards the team title. this took away from our greatest strength, our depth, but as it turned out, Columbia fencers won all three individual titles, finishing with a perfect score.

maybe other people can add more in the comments (please feel free!), but I think it's pretty safe to say that this was the best US collegiate men's fencing team ever assembled. it's pretty rare in NCAA history to have two individual champions on any team at the same time, and this team had six. we were the best, we knew it, we were obnoxious, and we backed it up.

this team was also the start of a dynasty: seven straight top 2 NCAA finishes from 1987-1993, four titles and three runners-up.

one last pic, this is after we swept the Easterns, after receiving our trophy. I'm the mostly hidden one waving the big finger (like I said, obnoxious):

(sorry that the pix all cut off, but you can drag them to the address bar to see the whole thing if you want)


ledest said...

nice report,
but if u want to speak about "history" and "dynasty" in fencing, i mention the french team of epee,
2004 : Olympics 1st
2005 : world championship 1st
2006 : world championship 1st
2007 : world championship 1st
2008 : Olymics 1st

Jon said...

sure, there have been lots of internationally dominant fencing teams, I'm not as knowledgable about those. it is incredible how much the sport has changed in the last 20 years, though, especially sabre (my weapon).