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Queens’ fencing dynamo

St. John's fencing Coach Yury Gelman (r.) mentors one of his potential champions. Photo courtesy St. John's Athletics
TimesLedger Newspapers

The St. John’s University Red Storm fencing team has been one of the best in the country for a number of years, winning a national championship in 2001 and not placing lower than sixth at the national championships since 1993.

That success can be attributed to head Coach Yury Gelman, who has been at the helm of the fencing program at St. John’s for the past 16 years. Gelman was recently inducted into the U.S. Fencing Hall of Fame in 2010, but that doesn’t seem to matter much to him. He’s more concerned with leading a team that has won 17 individual national championships, which is the most in the country since 1996.

The three-time Olympic coach for the United States — at the Sydney, Athens and Beijing Summer Games — has put together an outstanding list of accomplishments, including coaching more than 100 All-American fencers during his tenure at St. John’s.

He seems pretty modest about the athletes he has recruited.

“I try to find some strong fencers,” said Gelman. “Sometimes I get lucky and sometimes not.”

Luck doesn’t have much to do with it, especially when you’re talking about a player such as Daryl Homer. Homer has won back-to-back individual NCAA saber championships and has a bright future ahead of him in the fencing world. Gelman has been coaching him since he was 11.

Homer has already proved what he is worth on the national level. He currently ranks No. 2 in the United States and No. 13 in the world in the men’s saber. He recently finished competing in the World Fencing Championships in Catania, Italy, where he placed 34th in the individual event and eighth in the team event.

The Bronx native, however, is not content with what he has accomplished so far.

“I want to be No. 1 in the world and that is my end goal,” said Homer.

Homer will be redshirting this year at St. John’s to continue training for the 2012 Olympics in London, which he hopes to qualify for.

Marat Israelian is another back-to-back individual NCAA champion at St. John’s who will be going for his third epee title in his senior year. The men’s captain is a transfer from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where he didn’t feel he was given the chance to excel as an athlete. He’s confident that he found that place in Queens.

“I know the environment here is much better than any other school in the country, so for me it was a logical choice to come to St. John’s,” said Israelian.

The one thing that both Homer and Israelian can agree on is that Coach Gelman has been a major influence not only in their fencing careers, but also in their lives. Israelian described him as somebody that you should take example from. Homer went a little further.

“Yuri has meant the world to me. He’s impacted me on the way I look at my life,” said Homer.

St. John’s will open up the 2011-12 season at the North American Cup Junior Tournament in Austin, Texas, Nov. 11.

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