Since May 2011, dozens of fencers have competed in eight World Cup events, three national events, and Senior World Championships to determine who will represent USA Fencing at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Of the 20 American fencers traveling across the pond this summer, four will be Columbians.
Nicole Ross, who will graduate in fall 2012, and Nzingha Prescod, CC ’15, will travel to London to compete in women’s foil, while James Williams, CC ’07, and Jeff Spear, CC ’10, will compete in men’s sabre.
Ross ended her tremendous Columbia career by becoming the 2010 NCAA Individual Champion in women’s foil in 2010.
After finding out she would be heading to London, Ross felt a wave of emotions.
“I think whenever you achieve something that you’ve been trying to do for so long, a certain amount of confusion comes after achieving that goal,” Ross said. “As much as I’m completely thrilled, it’s only beginning to hit me that I’m going to the Olympics—which is something I’ve worked towards literally my entire career since I was nine years old. There is also exhaustion and relief in that feeling.”
Ross was born and raised in New York City. She has trained with Simon and Irene Gershon out of the Fencers Club, the oldest continuously existing organization in the Western Hemisphere dedicated exclusively to fencing, since she was nine years old.
Making the Olympic squad culminates a grueling 18-month-long process for Ross. While she has continued to live on the Upper West Side, Ross stopped taking classes in order to focus on making the Olympic team and train with her personal coaches in Chelsea.
She has focused on preparing herself mentally for perhaps the most intense event in the sport of fencing. She credits her efforts with helping her earn a spot on the squad going to London.
“The thing I have been working on the most and most proud of is my mental edge, my ability to focus in during important and intense moments and my ability to deliver an important result at a really crucial moment,” Ross said. “I’ve been working a lot at the sports psychology, mental aspect of the game, which has really elevated my level.”
Ross will travel to London with fellow Columbian Prescod.
Prescod finished Olympic qualifiers in second place and is currently ranked 15th in the world. Prescod won a silver medal at the 2011 Pan American Games and won gold at the Cadet World Championships in 2008 and 2009.
In her first season with the Lions, she earned first-team all-Ivy League and was named the Ivy League’s Rookie of the Year. Prescod will return to Columbia in the fall to compete for the Lions as a sophomore.
The 19-year-old foilist from Brooklyn trains with Buckie Leach at the Peter Westbrook Foundation out of the Fencers Club.
Ross, who has fenced with Prescod for a number of years, said she has come to respect her fencing ability and work ethic.
“We grew up fencing together,” Ross said. “She is one of, if not the, hardest working members of any team I’ve ever seen. She is constantly at practice before everyone gets there. She leaves after everyone else leaves. She has a great positive attitude about fencing. She is extremely technical and one of the best executors out there because she has such a great feeling for the game.”
Williams will also travel to London and represent the red, white, and blue on the men’s sabre team, in what will be Williams’ second trip to the Olympics. In 2008, he traveled to Beijing as an alternate and earned a silver medal in the team competition—the first medal for an American men’s team since 1984.
Williams, who is coached by Yury Gelman, will be the third seed in London.
Spear will travel to London as an alternate on the men’s sabre team. This accomplishment adds to one of the most successful careers of any athlete in Columbia’s history. Spear majored in evolutionary biology, graduated with a 4.07 GPA, and was named 2010 Columbia College salutatorian. In addition to his scholastic accomplishments, Spear was the 2008 NCAA Individual Champion in men’s sabre and was named a first-team All-America athlete by ESPN The Magazine.
This past season, Spear acted as an assistant coach for Columbia’s fencing team.
Prescod, Ross, and Williams will compete individually in a direct elimination tournament, and all four of Columbia’s athletes could see action in the team portion. Each attending U.S. squad will compete against seven other teams from across the globe in 45-touch relay bouts to determine the team champion.
Competition will take place from July 28 to Aug. 5 at the ExCeL Center on the shore of the Thames just outside London.