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Ten Questions with Team USA’s Eli Dershwitz

07/21/2018, 1:45pm CDT
By Nicole Jomantas

Dershwitz during a training session in Wuxi during the leadup to the Senior World Championships. Photo Credit: Nicole Jomantas

Eli Dershwitz in Padua after winning one of three international titles this season. Photo Credit: Augusto Bizzi / FIE

During the last two Olympic cycles, Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn, Mass.) has gone from qualifying for his first Senior World Championships as a 17 year old in 2013, to earning a No. 3 world ranking in men’s saber as well as Grand Prix and World Cup titles leading into the 2018 Senior World Championships. As he prepared to compete at his sixth Senior Worlds this week in Wuxi, China, Dershwitz sat down to answer questions on his goals in the sport, why he remembers the scores of not only his bouts, but everyone else’s too and what happens when his friends Snapchat fencing at 2 a.m. …

What does it feel like to still be in college and competing at your sixth Worlds?

It feels weird not to be the youngest kid on the team anymore. It feels like I’m finally settling into my own place. When I was younger, I was always looking up to other people and I was always questioning ‘Am I too young to be here? Do I have enough experience to be here?’ But now, after a pretty successful individual season, I feel like a lot of variables have come together with my training and my competition and I feel a lot more comfortable. There’s always nerves before big tournaments, but I feel like my hard work over the years is paying off in the form of my mindset pre-competition. I feel like I can compete against anyone in the competition. If I put my mind to it, there’s not anyone I can’t compete with anymore. When I was younger, I always felt like there were people out of my league and now I feel a lot more confident going up against the big names in the sport. I really feel like I have the potential to go home with a medal at this World Championships.

You’ve beaten many of the top people in the field. Do you think about that?

I think about it every day. The first time I popped onto the top 25 in the world, which is the first page on the FIE rankings list, I printed out a big piece of paper with the top 25 names. I was at like 22. I printed out a huge piece of paper and taped it onto the wall in my kitchen so I see it every day and I start highlighting or crossing out anybody I beat in a 15-touch bout. So I’ve crossed out almost everyone on the list that hasn’t retired. There are a few people left who are still competing that I’ve never had the chance to compete against, so obviously by the time I retire I’d like to cross out everyone on that list.

Who’s left?

There are a few people on that list that I never got a chance to fence before they retired. So that would be Eunseok Oh from Korea and Nicolas Limbach from Germany. And there are two people on that list who retired that have beaten me and I never got the chance to beat and that would be Diego Occhiuzzi from Italy and Won Woo Young from Korea who beat me like 45 times over the course of like two years. I never beat him. The only people left on the list who I’ve never beaten in a 15-touch bout individually are Ibragimov from Russia and Gemesi from Hungary. Ibragimov and I fenced at the World Cup when it was in Chicago in 2013 and he beat me, 15-13, in the 64. I’m still upset with the last call. [Laughs] It was definitely mine and he admitted it to me, but that’s the only time we’ve ever fenced individually.

Do you remember the scores of everyone you’ve ever fenced?

The problem with me is that, when I’m studying for stuff for school, some stuff I don’t remember. I don’t remember what I had for breakfast every day. But for some reason, I remember pretty much the score of every bout I’ve ever fenced and who I’ve fenced at which tournaments. Andrew [Mackiewicz] was talking last week about the World Cup in Georgia in 2015 at the start of Olympic qualification. He was talking about how that was his first 32 and I was like ‘Yeah, that was the bout in the 64 where you beat Ha from Korea, 15-14, jump in, jump out, parry riposte and then in the 32 you lost to Aldo, 15-13’ and I remember the last touch and he was like ‘Dude, how do you remember that?’ And it’s just that I watched the bouts and when I watch bouts, I never forget them. And sometimes I watch bouts on YouTube and I never forget those either.

I wish that carried over to my studies, but maybe it’s just how much I care about it. I don’t really know. But yeah … the guys on the team make fun of how much of a nerd I am in terms of fencing trivia.

Speaking of studies … tou’re a history major at Harvard. What do you plan on doing with that?

I have no idea. [Laughs] I really enjoy studying it and the classes I’m taking, but I have no idea what I’m going to do with it. All I know now is that, when I graduate next spring, I’ll have a little over a year to train full-time before Tokyo and then I’ll try and figure out my life after that.

You spend so much time on the road. What are you like to travel with?

It really depends on school. There are some weeks where I’m so busy with work that I’ll get on the plane and lean forward and just pass out and I’ll just wake up in Germany. And there are sometimes where I can’t sleep at all and I’ll just watch movies for 10 straight hours. So it really depends. And every time I’m in Germany, I go to the lounge and I get scrambled eggs and a pretzel there. Love that in Frankfurt. In terms of what I have to have with me, I always have Netflix loaded up and a few things in my fencing bag.

What are the things that are always in your fencing bag?

I do have a glass turtle in my fencing bag. It’s a little tiny one. Z gave it to me as a present when I was a kid and it’s one of my three lucky things. There’s a bottle cap bracelet my sister gave me when I was in like third grade and it’s been in my fencing bag ever since then and then there’s this little tiny bottle of hot sauce. Everyone knows I put hot sauce on everything and I was helping out at the fencing club my senior year of high school and the kids at the club got me a bottle of hot sauce

Since we’re in China, what’s your favorite Chinese food?

I love myself some dumplings. There’s different kinds, but I like a mix of some chicken dumplings, some beef dumplings, some pork dumplings, but what I really love are those soup dumplings – the really big ones where you open them up a little bit and you can drink the soup out of them and then you eat them. Those are my absolute favorite.

Do your friends pay attention when you leave Harvard to compete at international events?

I have a bunch of friends who love watching. They wake up at like 2 a.m. to watch the videos from home at the World Cups. Sometimes they get a little over excited. I’ll read the comments later and they like to trash talk and stuff and bring a little excitement to the sport of fencing. But it’s really exciting to know I have friends back home who are watching. I have friends from high school, friends from college. It’s definitely cool. The sport’s growing so much that there are more people who are aware of the tournaments and more people who are watching. The viewership overall is increasing and that definitely makes it more exciting.

Do your non-fencing friends know what they’re watching?

Usually not. [Laughs] Usually they think every touch is mine. And I’ve seen videos where they’re just yelling. The girlfriend of one of my friends will Snapchat me and it’s just video of him yelling at the computer and screaming at the referee and they have no idea what they’re talking about. It could be the most obvious touch for someone else or it could be one light for someone else and they’ll still be screaming at the laptop. But those videos are hilarious and that’s the ultimate form of dedication and loyalty.


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