When Bob Cottingham arrived as a freshman sabre fencer in 1984, Columbia fencing had not won a NCAA title since 1971. When he graduated in 1988, the program just won its second straight championship and would go on to win five titles in seven years.
Cottingham was key to the revival of this elite program.
Growing up in Orange, New Jersey, he “played football and lacrosse, which is my favorite sport,” he says. “I can also remember watching other athletes on television in the Olympics.” He would soon join those athletes on the Olympic stage.
Cottingham began fencing at Montclair Kimberley Academy under Columbia grad Carmen Marnell and was named all-state. When it came time to pick a college, he knew where he wanted to be — New York City. “Lots of powerhouse fencing comes out of New York, lots of opportunities for good bouting,” he explains. “I wanted to be fencing against the best fencers in the country.” He chose Columbia because it had “the best fit for my personality. I felt good about the school and the academics.”
Cottingham settled into a routine of academics and fencing, at Columbia and at the other clubs — Fencers Club and New York Athletic Club — downtown. Founded in the nineteenth century, both clubs have long been an implicit of Columbia fencing, with fencers and coaches gravitating to the clubs, where many of the world’s best train.
For Stephen Eschenbach’s full story, please visit Ivy@50.