The Museum of American Fencing estimates that nearly 85 percent of all U.S. fencing Olympians trained at one of New York City’s famed fencing clubs. That’s a fact Columbia head coach Michael Aufrichtig makes sure his recruits know.
“At Columbia, we’ll always have four or five strong individuals [at each weapon] on our team,” Aufrichtig told amNewYork. “But if you take a 25-minute subway ride down to the New York Fencers Club or the New York Athletic Club, you might fence a 28-year-old man who has an Olympic Games under his belt.”
Aufrichtig’s strategy has led Columbia to two NCAA championships and six Ivy League titles (four men’s, two women’s) since he took over in 2011. The university has taken notice, rewarding the program with a new state-of-the-art fencing room for the 2017-18 season.
“When I would bring recruits in before this, I’d always say, ‘It’s not about the facility, it’s about the people,’ ” he said. “Now I say, ‘Let me bring you down to the best fencing floor in the world.’ ”
The shock absorbent floors are the first of their kind, designed to prevent injuries from jumping and overuse. While facilities are different, the results have been the same. The Lions haven’t lost a team match on the young season, and their aspirations stretch even further than NCAA competition.
“In terms of tangible goals, it’s to get as many people as possible on the junior world team, senior world team and the Olympics,” Aufrichtig said. “If they need to miss an NCAA competition for a World Cup, we allow it.”
With the 2017-18 World Cup season just underway, 15 Lions already have competed in World and U.S. Cups, and that number is sure to grow. But, Columbia’s talent runs so deep that they’ve still been able to have NCAA success. That comes as no surprise to Aufrichtig, who serves a fencing chairman of the New York Athletic Club.
“As chairman I meet a lot of other coaches worldwide and within the United States,” Aufrichtig said. “I can reach out to these other coaches and ask, ‘Who do you think would be a great fit for Columbia?’ ”