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Olympian Maria Cerra Tishman Passes Away

01/29/2015, 12:00pm CST
By USA Fencing

Maria Tishman (left) at the 1948 Olympic Games.

(Colorado Springs, Colo.) – Maria Cerra Tishman (Glen Rock, N.J.), a member of the 1948 U.S. Olympic Team, passed away on Jan. 24 in Paramus, N.J. at age 96.

Tishman (neé Cerra), qualified for the 1948 Games in London at 30-years-old and, although it would be her first and only international competition, she made history with her fourth place result which still stands as the best finish ever in an individual event at the Games for a U.S. women’s foil fencer.

In London, Maria advanced through three preliminary rounds to reach the final of eight in the individual foil where she missed winning the Olympic gold by two touches. 

In what proved to be the final’s decisive bout in a pool format, Maria met Ilona Elek (HUN), the defending Olympic foil champion from 1936 and the eventual winner in 1948. 

Both fencers held records of five victories and one defeat. After taking an initial 2-0 lead in the four touch bout, Maria lost, 4-2, and finished in a three-way tie for second place, but finished fourth after a count of touches received and touches scored.

Tishman began fencing at age nine at Salle Vince, originally in Brooklyn and later, New York. She was coached by Joseph Vince, Celestino Fernandez and her father, Julio Cerra.

Tishman fenced at Hunter College and was a member of the IWFA (now NIWFA) intercollegiate championship team twice (1937 and 1940) and also won the IWFA individual intercollegiate championship twice (1938 and 1940).

When Salle Vince closed in 1941, Maria moved to Salle Santelli where she was coached by the legendary Giorgio Santelli who won gold at the 1920 Olympic Games while fencing on the Italian team. Tishman later under the tutelage of Rene Pinchart – a Belgian Olympic medalist in gymnastics who went on to coach at the Fencers Club in New York City.

Between 1935 and 1947, she was a member of the AFLA national championship foil team a total of nine times for her three clubs and won gold at the 1945 Amateur Fencers League of America (now USA Fencing) National Championships.

Following the 1948 Games, she married epee fencer Peter Tishman and dedicated more than 60 years to the sport of fencing where she contributed her time frequently and generously to bout committee and administrative work for the Fencers Club, the National Intercollegiate Women’s Fencing Association and the AFLA.  

In 1963, Tishman was inducted into the inaugural class of the U.S. Fencing Hall of Fame as one of just 18 honorees and only three women in the first year.  

She was honored again in 1969 as an early recipient of the NIWFA Founders Award for Meritous Service, presented by Julia Jones, the founder and first champion of the IWFA.

In 1982, when Hunter College established its Athletic Hall of Fame, Maria was its first inductee. 

From 1984 to 1999, Tishman officiated at New Jersey high school dual meets around the northeast part of the state with the most highly developed interscholastic fencing program in the country.

In addition to her involvement in the fencing community, Tishman was an elementary school teacher in the Oakland School District in New Jersey for 20 years and retired from the school system in 1984.  

Maria and her late husband Peter, a former treasurer for the AFLA, passed their love of fencing on to their three sons – Jeffrey, Thomas and Daniel Tishman – all of whom fenced for New York University.

Tishman is survived by two of her sons – Jeffrey and Thomas – as well as three grandchildren: Jonathan, Maggie and Rebecca Tishman. Her son Daniel died in 1979.

The family will receive visitors on Friday, Jan. 30, 2015, from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. at the Vander Plaat-Caggiano Funeral Home in Fair Lawn, N.J.

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