Marsh takes a stab at lifting U.S. She, other hopefuls gather in Towson

January 15, 1993|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

Ann Marsh speaks German, juggles an Ivy League course schedule that includes organic chemistry and animal physiology and can tell you anything you ever wanted to know about cranial nerves.

She's also pretty good with a weapon.

Marsh, 21, of Royal Oak, Mich., just might be the best women's fencer in the United States, going on the attack with a foil in a campaign that is likely to end at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

"Fencing is good for any student," said Marsh, a junior at Columbia University. "The sport teaches you how to build toward a goal and reach it."

Marsh, and 500 other fencers, will be competing in the North American Circuit #2 today through Sunday at Towson State University's Burdick Hall.

The meet is part of the three-step U.S. national team selection process for the 1993 World Championships in Essen, Germany. A half-dozen Olympians will be competing, including John and Paul Friedberg, Pikesville natives who work and train in New York.

There are more than 200,000 fencers nationwide, including 10,000 who belong to the U.S. Fencing Association. But the competition at Towson is luring the sport's top American competitors.

Now, Marsh is trying to cope with a new position in the sport. Once a rising young star, Marsh is a veteran expected to lead the Americans as they rebuild after the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

"I've gotten really tired of hearing a lot of people in Europe bad-mouth U.S. fencing," she said. "Over there, they don't have to work or get funding like we do. I want the U.S. to do well, to train hard."

For Marsh, fencing isn't just a sport -- it's often an all-consuming passion she picked up eight years ago at the Roeper City and Country School in Bloomfield, Mich. Then, she was just looking for a sport to fill her time in the winter. Volleyball wasn't her style. But fencing was.

"People who played volleyball weren't intense, and basketball, that's a team sport where you have to rely on someone else," Marsh said. "There's a risk there. I like depending on myself."

Marsh has done very well on her own. With her intensity and nearly limitless energy and desire to study and compete, she fits into a sport with its own quirky, international culture. She is coached by two Hungarians and a Russian, uses her German to speak with some of her rivals and actually tuned up for the Olympics by completing a term paper for a course on the human skeleton.

In 1990, Marsh even spent a year training in Germany, honing her skills in a bid to reach the 1992 Olympics.

But she came up short -- at least temporarily.

Marsh finished fourth at the U.S. trials and earned one of the more depressing tags in sports -- Olympic alternate. Even the rumor that Spain might withdraw from the Olympics -- opening another spot on the U.S. team -- didn't raise her spirits.

"Some reporter wanted to ask me what I thought about it," Marsh said. "That's like asking someone whose mother died, 'How do you feel?' "

Marsh went back to Columbia and tried to ignore the buildup for the 1992 Games in Barcelona.

And then, in the midst of cramming for a physics final, came a call from one of her coaches.

The news: Spain withdrew and the United States was in the women's team competition.

"I was running around the dorm, looking for someone to tell, 'I'm going to the Olympics,' " Marsh said.

Marsh went to Barcelona, marched in the opening ceremonies and competed on the U.S. team that finished ninth overall.

"When I got back to school in the fall, I was a little let down," she said. "It was hard to study and train. I'm compulsive and I lost my drive. I was still thinking about the Olympics."

The Olympics remain in Marsh's sight, but the goal is no longer Barcelona. She's bound for Atlanta.

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