While Keeth Smart may be the most-well known St. John’s fencer heading to Beijing, he will have some company from the Queens university.
The school’s fencing coach, Yuri Gelman, will coach the men’s and women’s National Team and Dagmara Wozniak, who will begin her sophomore year at St. John’s in the fall, is part of the women’s fencing team that will compete for the gold medal in Beijing.
Gelman, who has coached the fencing team at St. John’s since 1995, will make his second appearance as the U.S. Olympic team coach in Beijing in August. Although the sport of fencing does not receive the same headlines here that it does in European countries, the U.S. team has established itself as a serious contender for medals at this year’s Olympics.
“We are to the point now [where] we expect, and the world expects, two to three medals now,” Gelman said. “Our expectations have raised the bar and the level of fencing has been raised, so I hope we’re going to bring it [home].”
Wozniak, 20, is one of the youngest members of this year’s U.S. Olympic squad, and although it is not a guarantee that she will fence in Beijing since she is an alternate in women’s sabre, she is excited for her first Olympic experience.
“I’m really looking forward just to supporting my team and going out there to see the experience so for 2012, if I make the team again, I’ll know what to expect and know what the environment was like and the pressure,” she said.
Wozniak started fencing in a club in NJ and has been training under Gelman’s tutelage for about five years, but when it was time for her to choose a college, she never got any pressure from Gelman to choose St. John’s.
“He doesn’t really pressure anybody, he just helps all of us find the best college to go to and when he finally saw that I was interested in St. John’s he did everything possible to help me get there,” Wozniak.
Wozniak took last year off from school to focus on training and spend more time with her mother who was diagnosed with cancer, but she is quickly shooting up the national rankings in sabre.
“I think Dagmara’s potential is very strong,” Gelman said. “She works so hard, more than anyone else.”
Meanwhile, no matter how the team does in Beijing, Gelman believes the Olympics will have a positive impact on recruiting as well as generating a buzz for the school.
“We have so many Olympians [and] they talk about St John’s, and I talk, so it helps a lot,” he said.