If experience counts for anything, Stanford graduate Nick Bravin should be in pretty good shape at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Bravin, a three-time NCAA champion and winner of four U.S. crowns in the foil, is the old man of the U.S. Olympic fencing team at age 25.
"All year we've had a lot of experiences and a lot of the stuff I've done before," Bravin said. "So I try to help out where I can."
On Thursday, Bravin will anchor the three-man U.S. team competing with against the world's best in the team event. Bravin's teammates are Cliff Bayer, 18, whom Bravin defeated at the U.S. National Championships in June to regain his title, and Peter Devine, 20.
"There are a lot of nerves," Bravin said of the competitions ahead. "I think people are excited; they don't exactly know how to deal with it. Everybody is pretty emotional."
Emotion didn't work in Bravin's favor Monday when he met Adam Krzenski of Poland in a first-round match. The 6-foot-6 Krzenski befuddled Bravin, sending the Stanford grad down to defeat and an eventual 39th-place finish.
Bayer and Levine also lost their first-round matches and finished 34th and 37th, respectively.
Since teams are seeded according to their members' results in the individual competition, the U.S. will take a low seeding into Thursday's team event.
Zoran Tulum, an assistant Olympic coach and head coach of the Stanford fencing team, knew the chances of winning individual medals were slim. He does, however, believe there's hope for a team medal. In the Tournament of Seven Nationals held in Bonn, Germany, last May, the U.S. finished seventh but did score one big victory.
"We had a surprising victory against world champion Cuba," Tulum said. "We lost to the Austrian team, No. 4 in the world, 45-44. We lost to Germany, No. 3 in the world, 45-43. We did have some good fencing and lots of good results individually."
Tulum also noted that the U.S. team had a good training camp in South Carolina prior to the start of the Olympics.
"We trained with the Austrian team and we did really well," Tulum said. "The team looks stronger than ever, but you know, it always depends on that one day."
For Bravin, training for that "one day" started at age 12 in Los Angeles. He learned the basics from Ed Richards at the Westside Fencing Center. He taught Bravin to learn through observation and to use that knowledge to control his fencing.
Bravin moved to Palo Alto from Los Angeles in 1989 to attend Stanford, where he fell under the tutelage of Tulum.
"Zoran had a different lesson approach," Bravin recalled. "He had a more bout-style lesson and he brought a lot more aggressive actions to my game. He was willing to, with me, go out and see what the top foil guys in the world were doing and work it into my game.
"He extolled the same principles of patience (as Richards) and of kind of playing to my strengths and my opponents' weaknesses and setting them up."
After graduation, he moved on to New York to attend law school at Columbia University. Bravin, however, still competes for the Stanford Fencing Club. For the past year, he has devoted his life to training and qualifying for the Olympics. All the work has paid off.
"He's fened some really great bouts lately against top fencers in the world," Tulum noted. "Definitely his attitude brought confidence to the team."
Along with fencing, Bravin's "real" world life has gone well. After the Olympics, he will begin his second year of law school in addition to joining the Columbia Law Review, a prestigious legal publication.
Bravin will continue to fence, but said he would take some time off.
"I've got to get back into school and kind of get my life organized again," he said. "I'm definitely going to need a little break. After that, I'm going to come back and start training."
The 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, after all, are just four years away.
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