April 25, 2008
QUEENS, N.Y. -
The St. John's fencing program will have three of its fencers represent the United States and Canada at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Dagmara Wozniak and Keeth Smart will fence on behalf of the United States, and Olga Ovtchinnikova will represent the Canadian National Team.
There are two types of fencing events at the games, individual and team. The men's epee and sabre and the women's foil and sabre will have individual and team events. The countries that qualify teams will have three members fence both individually and for the team events. The men's foil and women's epee are the only individual events.
Wozniak will be representing St. John's University and the United States in Beijing this summer. Wozniak took the 2007-08 season off from intercollegiate competition with the Red Storm to pursue Olympic qualification. After a tedious year of competition, Wozniak secured her spot on the U.S. team by finishing first in the women's saber in Alger, Algeria. During her 2006-07 campaign with St. John's, Wozniak won the women's junior saber World Cup in Frascati, Italy. By winning the World Cup she secured her spot as the No. 1 fencer in the world in her age group. Wozniak received her first All-America honor in 2007 when she finished fifth at the NCAA Championship. Wozniak will return to the Red Storm for the 2008-09 season.
Smart is the best-known alumnus of the Red Storm fencing team. A four year All-American, he was the first African American fencer ranked No. 1 in the United States when he reached that status in 2004. He was featured in the pages of GQ magazine and People magazine, was on ABC with Peter Jennings, 60 Minutes and ESPN. This will be his third appearance at the Olympics after participating in Athens and Sydney. In March, Smart finished 19th individually in men's sabre at the Grand Prix in Alger, Algeria.
Ovtchinnikova will represent Canada in her first Olympic appearance this summer. A native of Toronto, Ontario, Ovtchinnikova did not compete with the Red Storm this year in pursuit of qualifying for the Olympics. During her sophomore campaign with the Red Storm, Ovtchinnikova received All-America accolades in the 2007 NCAA Championship. She follows first-seeded teammate Sandra Sassine in points for the Canadian women's sabre team.
"St. John's is unique because we have had so much success with our fencers that have become Olympians," says coach Yury Gelman.
Gelman will be making his third appearance as Team USA's men's sabre coach. He also coached the U.S. in the Sydney and Athens Olympics. He has had the opportunity of coaching six Red Storm fencing Olympians: Smart, Ivan Lee, Arlene Stevens, Jonathan Tiomkin, Wozniak and Ovtchinnikova. He has worked with the Ukrainian national sabre team and his U.S. fencers have won individual silver medals at the 2001 Junior and Cadet World Championships, in addition to a team gold. All four members of the 2002 men's sabre world team were his students. He has been the head coach at St. John's University since 1996.