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Two-time NCAA champion Itkin sets Olympic standards for himself

| Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Irish fencer Nick Itkin has accomplished a lot in little time. With his eyes set on qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, the sophomore appears well on his way with NCAA and junior world championships on his resume.

From Los Angeles, California, Nick Itkin said he chose to pursue a collegiate fencing career at Notre Dame because of his admiration for the program.

“Obviously [Notre Dame has] the best fencing program in the world, and strong coaches and a lot of resources to help you succeed as a student and as an athlete,” Itkin said. “I found I liked the environment. Everyone seemed super supportive.”

Allison Thornton | The Observer
Irish sophomore foil Nick Itkin faces off against an opponent during the NCAA regional round at Castellan Family Fencing Center on March 9.

In his first two years as on campus, Nick Itkin went back-to-back as an NCAA champion in Men’s Foil. He was named the 2018 Notre Dame Men’s Fencing MVP, collecting a Junior World Championship in Men’s Foil to cap off his freshman campaign. Notre Dame’s fencing program as a whole finished 2018 as back-to-back national champions.

“I wanted to compete collegiately as well as internationally, and I thought it was going to be hard to adjust to the new routine and new coaches, but it actually ended up working out really well,” Itkin said.

After an impactful first year at Notre Dame, Itkin said he acknowledged some challenges came with having a target on his back as a college champion.

“Collegiately, I wanted to obviously repeat as the champion in Men’s Foil, and I knew it would be tough because there’s a lot of pressure and expectations,” Itkin said. “It’s hard — really hard — to defend the title. People are expecting you to do this, but when you’re an underdog, it’s kind of easier.”

In spite of the pressure of expectations, Itkin became a two-time NCAA champion after he defeated his Notre Dame teammate, senior Axel Kiefer, in the finals.

“[The match-up] was interesting because we kind of knew each other,” said Itkin. “We both kind of adjusted our fencing for it, because we knew exactly what was going to happen. But if I had to see [Kiefer], I liked that it’d been in the finals.”

Following another trip to Junior World Championships in Poland in early April, Itkin’s focus has shifted onto a lofty goal. He said he wants to compete in Tokyo for the 2020 Olympic Games. Five members of Notre Dame’s fencing program represented Team USA at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

“I’m actually taking a gap year next year to train for the Olympics,” said Itkin. “So next year, I’ll be doing a lot of traveling and a lot of camps and trying to reach that goal.”

Los Angeles will be his home base, but occasional visits to Notre Dame have crossed his mind, he said.

“I have a unique opportunity,” Itkin said. “I don’t want to waste it.”

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