While there was no shortage of red, white and blue on display at the 2016 Rio Olympics last month, St. John’s fans may have noticed an extra dose of former Red Storm talent succeeding in Brazil.
Fencers Daryl Homer and Dagmara Wozniak, who each graduated from St. John’s in 2013, both returned home from Rio with their first Olympic medals. Homer captured silver in the men’s individual saber competition on Aug. 10, while Wozniak earned a bronze three days later in the women’s team saber.
“You flash back to all the work you put in,” Homer said. “You just sit back and you kind of look at things from a broader perspective and realize how big it is and how many people you’ve inspired. You realize the whole world is watching, so it’s a really great experience and great feeling.”
Homer and Wozniak both won medals last month after failing to do so in the 2012 London Olympics, as they finished sixth and eighth, respectively, in their events during that year’s games.
However a good part of the former Johnnies’ success in Rio had to be attributed to their coach, current St. John’s head coach and U.S. Fencing hall-of-famer, Yury Gelman. The 60 year-old native of Kiev, Ukraine made his fifth Olympic coaching appearance this year, providing an immense amount of experience and chemistry for his pair of former Red Storm standouts.
“I think that my experience definitely helped both of them in some area,” Gelman said. “Even at times if they did not agree with me and what I told them…I know a little better what to do and how to do it.”
Homer, 26, came into Rio as the second-ranked fencer in the United States. However the four-time All-American at St. John’s was actually going through some struggles as he headed overseas.
After making history by becoming the first American man to win a medal in the saber competition at the Senior World Championships in July 2015, Homer went into a “deep decline,” as he put it. However he was able to recover from the funk to give himself a legitimate shot at gold in Rio.
“It was just me struggling with my confidence, and me arguing with people who I shouldn’t be,” Homer said. “It was a very hard situation. When you start struggling with the games so close, you get really freaked out.”
Wozniak also went through a shaky period heading into the games, as an injury in February kept her out of action for three and a half months and caused her to drop in the United States rankings.
Even with the injury concerns, the 28 year-old Wozniak was named to the United States team back in April. Although she fell in the second round in the individual saber competition, Wozniak and her Team USA counterparts secured a bronze medal just five days later.
Gelman expressed his concerns regarding Wozniak heading into the games, as he did not believe that she was fully recovered from her injury. But nonetheless he was proud of her performance in the team competition.
“Dagmara has always been a very strong team player, she makes her team much better,” Gelman said. “I was worried, but she did extremely well.”
The Red Storm trio of Homer, Wozniak and Gelman still stay in constant contact even after the games. Wozniak and Homer actually train together five days each week as they continue to prepare for further international competition.
“It’s been a little tougher for me to stay in contact with guys from the [St. John’s] team, but we communicate via text and hang out when we can,” Homer said. “Generally Dagmara and I see each other a lot, we travel around the world together.”
The experience that the Olympians received at St. John’s just a few short years ago certainly appeared to assist them last month at Rio as well.
“In terms of high level training and just being exposed to strength work, nutrition and recovery, St. John’s did an amazing job of that for me,” Homer said. “I had never been around that.”
After their success in Rio last month, the focus for the Red Storm trio now turns toward qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“If they will continue, we will go for this 100 percent,” Gelman said. “If I can help and support, I will definitely do it. It all depends.”