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    Stars of the Sword
    Fencing championship has had many standouts in past 25 years
    Cate Grider | National Sports Journalism Center
    Last Updated - Mar 3, 2014 09:01 EST

    Winning an Olympic gold medal before your freshman year of college? Sounds like
    something out of a Hollywood movie. Winning the first Olympic medal for your
    country in last 100 years?  Pure fantasy.

    For Mariel Zagunis, this was her reality.

    Zagunis, who attended Notre Dame 2004 through the spring of 2007, boasts an
    award list worthy of its own website. Her achievements would include another
    Olympic gold medal in 2008, a bronze medal in the team sabre competition in 2008,
    NCAA champion in the sabre in 2006, three-time junior world champion (2001,
    2004, 2005)  and two-time senior world champion in 2009-10.

    Zagunis is among the elite-level athletes to excel in the NCAA championships, which
    celebrate a 25th edition this year. She largely dominated the fencing vernacular for
    over a decade, and rightfully so, since bringing home the first fencing gold medal in
    100 years.

    Before Zagunis there was Olga Kalinovskaya, who helped pave the way for the
    younger generation of women who were drawn to fencing.

    Kalinovskaya of Penn State would become the first woman to win four consecutive
    NCAA titles from 1993-96. Kalinovskaya’s specialty was foil and she dominated her

    Kalinovskaya has been called “a snot” by opposing players.  A small price to pay for
    a huge place in fencing history.

    Since Kalinovskaya, no man or woman has been able to match her record, leaving
    her spot in the record book safe. For now.

    However, a few fencers have made a solid run at her place in history. Boaz Ellis of
    Ohio State would win the title from 2004-06 while Slava Zingerman of Wayne State
    would bring home the title in 2006-08 and come painfully close in 2009.  

    Each of these history-making fencers hailed from institutions with a rich history in

    Since the NCAA began awarding titles in combined men’s and women’s fencing in
    1990, Penn State has led all schools with 12 championships.

    Penn State would be home to one of the best fencing coaches, Emmanuil Kaidanov,
    for more than three decades.  Coaching them to title after title.  Kaidanov was also
    known for having an eye for talent.  He would recruit the best of the best for the
    Penn State program, developing it into the national powerhouse it is today.

    And when you are the best you tend to bring out the best in your opponent. And
    one of Penn State’s stiffest opponents during the past 25 years has been Notre

    The Fighting Irish have won the second most titles, bringing home four
    championships in the last 20 years. In that two-decade span, Notre Dame has been
    a runner up eight times, including six Penn State championship years. Smell a

    The history of the fencing program at Notre Dame is just as great as that of Penn
    State’s, even if it was by chance.

    Pedro DeLandero, a Mexican native, attended Notre Dame and would find his way
    back to Mexico and back again to Notre Dame.  After returning to South Bend to be
    a Spanish professor, DeLandero would be involved in a car accident.

    The prescription? Rehabilitation.  The treatment? Swimming.

    DeLandero would have none of it and suggested fencing in the place of swimming.

    And as the say, the rest is history.

    Fencing would go on to become Notre Dame’s eighth varsity sport and the school
    would develop one of the best fencing programs in the country.

    Many fencers have gone on to coach, to be motivational speakers, or in the case of
    Slava Zingerman, a Wayne State prodigy who almost caught up with Olga
    Kalinovskaya’s four-time NCAA title record, you not only coach professionally but
    you donate your time willingly.

    Zingerman spends time with U.S. veterans helping them to stay active and healthy
    by teaching them to fence. This is all a part of the Veterans on Guard! Fencing
    program that is held at New York’s Fencing Club.

    Leadership on and off the mat, or court, or field. This is the challenge for each
    NCAA student-athlete, past and present. The rewards continue long after trophies
    gather dust and winning seasons are a distant, pleasant memory.

    Original source:
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Mariel Zagunis, right, was the national champion in Sabre in 2006.