Roar Lion Roar: Columbia’s 2004 Olympians
By Jonathan Lemire ’01
President Lee C. Bollinger
congratulates Olympic fencer Erinn Smart '01 Barnard at Homecoming
2004 as Olympic teammates Dan Kellner '98 (left) and Jed Dupree
'01 look on.
PHOTO: EILEEN BARROSO
Athens is a long way from Morningside Heights. And
there are probably as many differences between life near the Acropolis
of America and the actual Acropolis as there are miles (about 5,000)
that separate New York from Greece.
But there also are some striking similarities —
and one of them is the spirit of sports. Indeed, whether an athlete
is staring across the starting line (or fencing mat, or open water)
at an opponent from Yale or from Spain, the fire of competition
burns just as bright in the Ivy League as it does in the shadow
of the Olympic flame. But, as several Columbia competitors discovered
this summer at the Olympic Games in Athens, the thrill — and
the honor — is that much greater when they represent their
home country as well as their school.
And while none of the seven Light Blue athletes (alumni as well
as students) who competed in the Olympics brought home a medal,
the experiences that the four fencers and three rowers shared were
worth their weight in gold.
“The Opening Ceremony was one of the most amazing
experiences of my life,” says fencer Dan Kellner ’98.
“Marching with my teammates, who are some of my best friends
and with whom I have shared so much, and meeting athletes from all
over the world, was something that I am very grateful for.
“All of us could barely wait to hear ‘The
Star Spangled Banner.’ It was thrilling and so moving.”
The Lions were well-represented on the U.S. fencing
team. In addition to Kellner, Jed Dupree ’01, Emily Jacobson
’08 and Erinn Smart ’01 Barnard also changed their uniform
colors from pale blue to red, white and navy.
Kellner, a American history major from Warren, N.J.,
finished 16th individually in foil and teamed up with Dupree for
the team competition. The U.S. finished fourth, narrowly losing
the bronze medal 45–38 to Russia.
“A few tough calls went against us, ones that
we’ve watched over and over on DVD,” says Kellner, a
graphic designer living in New York City. He took consolation in
his squad’s defeat of the world’s No. 2 team, Germany,
in an earlier round.
The loss to Russia hasn’t discouraged Kellner
or Dupree: Both are working to raise funds to keep the team active
in order to compete in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. “This
is what we live for,” Kellner says.
“To come so close to a medal and to fall just
short was tough to take,” adds Dupree, a history major who
coaches youth and adult fencers in Hoboken, N.J. “More than
anything, it’s motivated us and made us confident of what
we can achieve in Beijing.”
Meanwhile, the odds are that Jacobson has been able
to trump most of her first-year peers when answering the traditional
“How did you spend your summer vacation?” question.
She competed in foil but was unable to match her older sister, Sada,
a Yale fencer who snagged the bronze medal.
Smart, an alternate during the 2000 Sydney Games,
was eliminated in the first round. All four fencers — the
latest in a long line of CU swordsmen and women to compete in the
Olympics — ran into at least one familiar face in Athens,
as Lions co-head fencing coach George Kolombovich was in charge
of selecting the event’s officials.
On the water, Stacey Borgman ’98 Barnard helped power the
U.S. lightweight pairs boat which, after just missing the cut for
the final race, won the consolation race (or “B-Final”)
to claim seventh overall.
Two other Columbia rowers took pride in traveling
to Greece to represent their home country, Serbia-Montenegro. Veljko
Urosevic ’03 and Milos Tomic ’05E made up half of Serbia’s
four-man lightweight crew that, like Borgman’s pair, won the
B-Final to place seventh overall.
“There are no crew teams in schools in Serbia,
only scattered clubs,” notes Tomic, a civil engineering major.
“It is no small thing to qualify for the Olympics and be counted
with famous athletes from all over the world.”
“It’s a small country where the whole
nation is paying attention to your every move,” says Urosevic,
a political science major who lives in New York. “Everybody
knows our team and roots for us, so we didn’t want to disappoint
Adds Urosevic, “We race against the same teams
in the World Championships, but what made the Olympics unique is
the time we spent in the [Olympic Village], meeting the other
athletes, watching the other sports and sharing our stories. It’s
an experience none of us will forget.”
with patriotic pride, more than 15,000 Greeks packed a Crete
stadium during the Olympics to cheer on their women’s
soccer team as it hosted the heavily favored United States
squad. Some of their loudest cheers were reserved for their
team’s goaltender, who stopped 23 shots to keep the
final score respectable — Greece lost 3–0 to the
eventual gold-medal-winning Americans.
The goalie for the Greek team, Maria Yatrakis, calls Brooklyn
Heights home and is a volunteer assistant for Columbia’s
soccer teams. Yatrakis’ parents — Kathryn Yatrakis,
dean of academic affairs and associate dean, and Peter Yatrakis
’62 — were born in Greece. Maria was raised with
dual citizenship, which she used to join the join the Greek
squad two years ago. After a whirlwind of travel and practice,
the Yankees fan from Brooklyn suddenly found herself in goal
for the host country in the Olympics, staring down the likes
of the legendary Mia Hamm.
“I walked onto the field with a silly smile on my
face,” Yatrakis told The New York Times. “I watched
these players in my childhood. [It was] slightly unbelievable,
a really fabulous moment.”
Jonathan Lemire ’01 is
a frequent contributor to Columbia College Today and a
staff writer for The New York Daily News.