Three-time Olympian Erinn Smart, BC '01, won the silver medal in the women's team foil competition as a member of the United States squad. Her brother Keeth, who will begin classes this fall as a first-year MBA student at Columbia Business School, won a silver in the men's team saber competition with current graduate student James Williams, CC '07. All three are included in an Aug. 18 story in The New York Times.
Erison Hurtault, CC '07, finished fourth in his first-round heat of the men's 400-meter dash, just missing a qualifying spot in the next round of competition.
Many athletes pump themselves up before competition with hip-hop or heavy metal music. But fencer Erinn Smart, BC '01, has a different type of soundtrack on her iPod: "Saturday Night Fever."
"I'm a Brooklynite, what can I say!" she says.
John Travolta in his dancing heyday couldn't match the floor moves of Smart, 28, a five-time national champion in the women's foil competition. This summer marks the third trip to the Olympics for the disco-lover from Flatbush, N.Y., who majored in economic history at Barnard. She will compete in the individual and team competitions on Aug. 11 and 16, hoping to improve on her 17th-place finish in the 2004 Athens games.
The foil, which is small and light, is one of three weapons used by Olympian fencers; the others are the epee and saber. In foil competition, athletes gain points only by striking their opponent with the tip of the sword.
After two Olympic appearances without a medal, the third time might be the charm for Smart in Beijing, if only for symbolic reasons. The former Columbia athlete has a ritual each time she competes of wearing a red T-shirt or bracelet under her armor in a nod to China's official color. The superstition began as a lark in 2004, the year her birth was celebrated on the Chinese zodiac calendar.
Smart, who's on temporary leave from her job at a money-managing firm, has fenced competitively since age 14, when she joined the national cadet team. But when it came time to select a college, she chose Barnard in hopes of meeting a diverse array of people who didn't fence six days a week. To this day, her best friends are what she calls her "non-fencing" classmates.
Smart is featured in the story "Beijing Air Thick on Monday" published Aug. 4 in The New York Times, and in "Our Hope for Gold: Big Apple's Best Ready to Rock Beijing" published Aug. 3 in the New York Post.
On the fencing strip, James Williams, CC '07, is a fierce competitor, armed with a saber and the knowledge that he has about two seconds to strike his opponent after the whistle blows.
When he sheds his fencing jacket, however, Williams transforms into a shy 22-year-old from Sacramento, Calif., who enjoys Russian literature and getting lost in the city.
Williams returned last year to Columbia to earn a master's degree in Slavic cultures. Teammates appreciate him for his academic pursuits—and often rely on him to step into the role of tour guide during competition trips overseas.
"They're very grateful in places like Russian and Bulgaria," jokes the soft-spoken Slavic scholar. "I'm a valuable team member in certain parts of the world."
Williams is plenty valuable in competition, too. Ranked the world's No. 26 saber-rattler, he's excelled as a member of the U.S. national team and won the Bronze Medal at the Pan American Games in both 2006 and 2008. A fencer since the age of 9, Williams now has a personal trainer, yoga instructor and sports psychologist. The former Columbia captain and two-time All-American even practices meditation. At the Olympics, he's prepared to compete as an alternate in the team competition, on Aug. 17.
Unlike foil and epee competition, saber-style fencing involves "slashing" opponents above the waist with the side of the weapon, leading to much shorter bouts—usually in the window of a few seconds. This style of swordsmanship has roots its roots in cavalry battles.
Because of his academic background, Williams, who counts Isaac Babel among his favorite Russian writers, says he enjoys a unique relationship with U.S. Olympic Coach and fencing icon Yury Gelman, from the Ukraine.
The California transplant is planning a long-term move to the Chelsea section of Manhattan and says he looks forward to returning to campus after his run in Beijing. "The Slavic department is wonderful," he says. "There's not a professor there I don't love."
Williams is featured in the story "Sticking Together, Up to a Point" published July 23 in The New York Times.
Erison Hurtault, CC '07, is a world-class athlete and two-time All-American runner. But he almost didn't graduate from Columbia because of a fitness test.
"I can't swim," he sheepishly admits. "The three lengths of Uris Pool were probably the biggest obstacle between me and my diploma."
He's not Michael Phelps, but Hurtault is still an athlete to watch in Beijing this year. On Aug. 19, the 23-year-old will line up to compete in the 400-meter dash while representing the Commonwealth of Dominica, the Caribbean island nation where his parents were born.
Hurtault, who was raised in Matawan, N.J., has had great success in the 400-meter sprint throughout his career. At Columbia, he won that event eight straight times in Ivy League championship competition—a feat no other Columbia athlete has accomplished—and his clocked time of 45.4 seconds is a University record. (The world record in the 400-meter dash, set by U.S. Olympian Michael Johnson in 1999, is 43.18 seconds.)
At Columbia, Hurtault majored in economics. Upon graduating he launched a career in investment banking. But his stock-market ambitions were shelved the last few months as he trained for Beijing at his current residence in Tallahassee, Fla.
Just a year after graduating, Hurtault has established himself as one of the greatest runners ever to come out of Columbia. His senior year he received the Connie S. Maniatty Award, bestowed annually to the University's outstanding male and female student-athletes. He was also a member of Columbia's 4x800-meter relay that seized the 2007 championship title at the Penn Relays—a first by an Ivy League squad since 1974.
"I don't think you can argue that anyone has been better in the Ivies in any four-year span," said University Track and Field Coach Willy Wood.
About Columbia, Hurtault says, "I couldn't ask for anything else in a college experience."
Hurtault is featured in the story "One Runner With Two Olympic Chances in 400" published July 1 in The New York Times.
—Story by John Tucker
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