Sherborn’s Eli Dershwitz with his coach, Zoran Tulum. Photos courtesy of Zoran Tulum
Eli Dershwitz has been called an up-and-coming saber fencer for the last years, but this doesn’t hold true any longer. The 22-year old from Sherborn, Massachusetts has become the second US fencer in history to reach a number one world ranking in men’s saber.
The 2018 Fencing World Championships are currently held in Wuxi, China. There, the world’s best fencers compete in the three Olympic disciplines of modern fencing: épée, foil, and saber. In the individual men’s saber event, three out of four members of Team USA reached the round of the final 64. Daryl Homer (from Bronx, NY), a 2016 Olympic silver medalist, finished 15th, while Dershwitz went on to lose a close gold-medal bout to Kim Junghwan from South Korea to finish second. His silver is only the second World Championship medal in history won by a US men’s saber fencer at the senior circuit.
Finding himself on the World Championship podium for the first time was an emotional moment for Dershwitz. “Standing on that podium and just seeing all the great fencers standing right next to me. I lost a really close bout in the final to a great fencer, Kim – an Olympic Champion and World Champion now. And other people got bronze, great athletes, great fencers. It feels amazing to be on that podium with them.” It will take some time for Dershwitz to let it all sink in. “To be a Senior World medalist – it’s the biggest tournament of the biggest tournaments besides the Olympics – and to know that your name is going to be written down in the history books is amazing.”
After becoming the youngest ever US Men’s Saber National Champion in 2014, Dershwitz won the Junior World Championships one year later. In 2016, he won his first gold at a fencing Grand Prix in Seoul and was the youngest fencer to represent USA at the Rio Olympic Games. Parallel to his international fencing career, the Harvard senior also won two NCAA titles for his Alma Mater in 2017 and 2018.
The 2017-2018 season showed that Dershwitz has arrived to take his place among the greats of the fencing world. In November, he won his first World Cup gold medal in Algiers, followed it up with another gold three months later in Italy, added a bronze at the Seoul Grand Prix in April, and became the Pan-American Champion in men’s saber for the third time in June. The silver at World Championships is a remarkable fifth podium finish within one fencing season. The outstanding success of Dershwitz’s season finds him as the first US men’s saber fencer to win the overall World Cup title by the International Fencing Federation FIE.
“To become the world’s number one men’s saber fencer at his age is very impressive,” says Dershwitz’s coach. Zoran Tulum, the current National Coach of the US Men’s Saber Team and their Olympic Coach in Rio 2016, has seen his share of fencing champions. The former US Olympic Coach of the men’s foil team at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 started a saber fencing program at his own club, Zeta Fencing in Natick, Massachusetts, in 2001 after coaching Stanford’s (1987-1999) and Harvard’s (1985-1987) fencing teams. Currently, two of four members of the US National Men’s Saber Team are students of Tulum’s program in Natick: Dershwitz and his teammate Andrew Mackiewicz from Westwood, Massachusetts. Mackiewicz, a two-time NCAA champion for Penn State (2015, 2016) is this year’s bronze medalist at Pan American Championships and an experienced member of the US Men’s Saber Team.
In 2016, Tulum lead the US Men’s Saber Team to its historic first number-1 world ranking, but they missed a medal at World Championships that year. Now, at the 2018 World Championships in Wuxi, the team is getting ready and Dershwitz, Mackiewicz, Homer and Geoff Loss (Laguna Beach, Calif.) have their eyes set on a medal again. As a true team player, Dershwitz had his priorities set within a couple of hours after winning his historic medal in the individual competition. It’s all about the team now: “We’ve got three days to prepare for the final and I want to go home with a gold medal.”