The Lions Who Made Olympic Fencing History

Columbia fencers are no strangers to the Olympics.

Columbia fencers are no strangers to the Olympics. From the first modern Games, in Athens in 1896, to the most recent, in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, the College has had 24 fencers compete for a spot on the coveted podium; four captured medals. With the Summer Olympics scheduled to start on July 23 in Tokyo, we thought we’d take the opportunity to look back at some of the standouts who’ve fenced at Columbia and competed for the United States.

Samuel George Fitzhugh Townsend CC 1893, SEAS 1896: After majoring in physics, Townsend got a second degree in electrical engineering and taught that subject at Columbia until his death in 1906. Competing in the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis under the name Fitzhugh Townsend, he was a member of the U.S. team that won the silver medal in team foil competition. He also competed in individual foil but was eliminated in the first round, and in individual épée, where he finished fifth. Townsend was the first Ivy League fencer to compete in the modern Olympics.

Norman Armitage CC 1927, SEAS 1929


Norman Armitage CC 1927, SEAS 1929: One of the U.S.’s most heralded fencers, Armitage learned the sport at Columbia under renowned coach James Murray, won 17 national sabre championships and was runner-up nine times in a career that spanned more than 30 years. He competed in six Olympics from 1928 to 1956, won a bronze medal in team sabre in 1948 at London and was honored as the U.S. flag bearer in the opening ceremonies in 1948, 1952 and 1956. In 1963 Armitage was the first individual inducted into the U.S. Fencing Association Hall of Fame and in 2008 was inducted into the Columbia University Athletics Hall of Fame.

Hugh Alessandroni CC 1929, SEAS 1931: Another athlete who learned to fence at Columbia under coach Murray, Alessandroni was a two-time U.S. foil champion and a member of seven teams that won national titles. He earned a bronze medal with the U.S. foil team in the 1932 Olympics at Los Angeles and competed for the U.S. foil team that finished fifth in the 1936 Olympics at Berlin. A chemical engineer, Alessandroni led a team that invented the electrical épée scoring device, first used in the 1936 Olympics.

Caitlin “Katy” Bilodeau ’87: The top-ranked women’s foil fencer in the U.S. from 1985 to 1992, Bilodeau was a four-time national champion and four-time All-American. She won the NCAA women’s foil title in 1985 and 1987, becoming the first woman to capture two NCAA fencing crowns. Bilodeau competed in the 1988 Olympics at Seoul and the 1992 Olympics at Barcelona. Among her many honors, she was named the NCAA Athlete of the Decade for the 1980s in fencing and Columbia’s Athlete of the 20th Century, also for fencing. She was inducted into the U.S. Fencing Association Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Columbia University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2006.

Olympians Caitlin “Katy” Bilodeau ’87 and Robert Cottingham Jr. ’88 won myriad awards while fencing for Columbia.

Robert Cottingham Jr. ’88: A four-time All-Ivy League and All-America selection in men’s sabre, Cottingham won six U.S. National Championships between 1986 and 1992 and, like Bilodeau, competed for the U.S. Olympic team in 1988 and 1992. A history major, he was on the Executive Committee of the U.S. Fencing Association and was inducted to its Hall of Fame in 2015, and the Columbia University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010. A native of Orange, N.J., Cottingham owns and operates Sabre88, a global consulting firm, and in 2015 was named by the U.S Small Business Administration as “New Jersey’s 2015 Minority Small Business Person of the Year.”

Ann Marsh-Senic ’94: Marsh-Senic was a three-time All-American in foil who never lost a match in her Ivy League career, compiling a 48–0 record and leading the Lions to two Ivy crowns. She became Columbia’s first female athlete to appear in three Olympic Games, competing in 1992 at Barcelona, in 1996 at Atlanta and in 2000 at Sydney. Marsh-Senic completed medical school at the University of Rochester while still fencing, is an emergency physician in suburban Detroit and assists her husband, Anatolie Senic, in managing the Renaissance Fencing Club in Troy, Mich.

James Williams ’07, GSAS’09, BUS’17

James Williams ’07, GSAS’09, BUS’17: Columbia’s team captain his junior and senior years, Williams won a silver medal as a member of the U.S. sabre team in the 2008 Olympics at Beijing, the first medal for an Ivy League fencer in 60 years. Chosen as an alternate on the four-man squad (only three compete), Williams was inserted into the lineup for the gold medal match against France (the U.S. team was defeated 44–37). Williams majored in U.S. history and concentrated in Russian studies before earning an M.A. in Russian and Slavic cultures from GSAS and an M.B.A. from the Business School.

Nicole Ross ’13 (left) and Nzingha Prescod ’15 were teammates on the U.S. Olympic team in 2012 at London.

Nzingha Prescod ’15: Born in Brooklyn, the Stuyvesant H.S. graduate won a gold medal in foil at the 2011 Junior World Championships in Amman, climbed to the number 1 ranking in the U.S. and competed in the 2012 Olympics in London. In 2015, Prescod became the first African-American woman to win an individual medal at the Senior World Championships when she captured the bronze at Moscow. The following year she competed in the Olympics at Rio de Janeiro, becoming the 10th Columbian to represent the U.S. in at least two Olympiads.

Alex Sachare ’71 took fencing to satisfy part of his PE requirement and is a former sports editor of Spectator and editor-in chief of CCT.

Alumni Fencers in the Olympics

Samuel George Fitzhugh Townsend CC 1893, SEAS 1896:
1904 Olympics in St. Louis (silver medal, team foil)

Millard J. Bloomer Jr. CC 1920, LAW 1923:
1920 Olympics in Antwerp

Steddiford Pitt CC 1911:
1920 Olympics in Antwerp

Harold Bloomer CC 1924:
1924 Olympics in Paris

Norman Armitage CC 1927, SEAS 1929:
1928 Olympics in Amsterdam; 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles; 1936 Olympics in Berlin; 1948 Olympics in London (bronze medal, team sabre; U.S. flag bearer); 1952 Olympics in Helsinki (U.S. flag bearer); 1956 Olympics in Melbourne (U.S. flag bearer)

Hugh Alessandroni CC 1929, SEAS 1931:
1932 Olympics in Los Angeles (bronze medal, team foil); 1936 Olympics in Berlin

Robert Driscoll CC 1933:
1952 Olympics in Helsinki

Alfred Skrobisch CC 1933, SEAS 1934, SEAS 1935:
1952 Olympics in Helsinki; 1956 Olympics in Melbourne

James Margolis ’58:
1960 Olympics in Rome

James Melcher ’61:
1972 Olympics in Munich

Tom Losonczy ’75:
1976 Olympics in Montreal; 1980 Olympics in Moscow (U.S. team boycotted)

Joel Glucksman ’70:
1984 Olympics in Los Angeles

Steve Trevor ’86:
1984 Olympics in Los Angeles; 1988 Olympics in Seoul

Caitlin “Katy” Bilodeau ’87:
1988 Olympics in Seoul; 1992 Olympics in Barcelona

Robert Cottingham Jr. ’88:
1988 Olympics in Seoul; 1992 Olympics in Barcelona

Anne Marsh-Senic ’94:
1992 Olympics in Barcelona; 1996 Olympics in Atlanta; 2000 Olympics in Sydney

Jed Dupree ’01:
2004 Olympics in Athens

Emily Jacobson ’08:
2004 Olympics in Athens

Dan Kellner ’98:
2004 Olympics in Athens

James Williams ’07, GSAS’09, BUS’17:
2008 Olympics in Seoul (silver medal, team sabre); 2012 Olympics in London

Sherif Farrag ’09, GSAS’18:
2012 Olympics in London

Jeff Spear ’10:
2012 Olympics in London

Nicole Ross ’13:
2012 Olympics in London