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SILVER STARS

This was the storybook ending he dreamed about since he was a kid.
After leaving his heart on the fencing strip in Athens four years ago - twice losing matches by one point that could have garnered his team an Olympic medal - St. John’s graduate Keeth Smart got a second chance at redemption in Beijing and took full advantage of it.
Smart, who found his U.S. sabre team trailing both Hungary and Russia in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively, turned in back-to-back heroic performances leading his team to consecutive 45-44 victories and a guaranteed silver medal.
“I felt a sense of relief once I clinched the silver medal,” Smart told The Queens Courier via e-mail on Sunday night, August 17, shortly before he boarded a flight from Beijing back to New York where the 30-year-old will start classes at Columbia University’s Business School this week. “For the past four years, I have always thought about Athens and how I could have improved. After I clinched the silver medal, I was so elated. It was an amazing feeling.”
Smart entered the quarterfinal match against Hungary with his team trailing 40-36, and after he outscored his opponent 8-4 to tie the match at 44, he connected on the final point sending the team to a semifinal showdown against Russia.
When it was his turn to fence against Russia, he found himself in an even more uphill battle trailing 40-35 before rallying to again tie the score at 44. With the match on the line, he out-fenced his Russian opponent, Stanislav Pozdnyakov, to send the U.S. to the gold medal round.
Although the U.S. lost the gold medal match to France 45-37, the team was not expected to win any medal in the team competition, so a silver medal set off a euphoric celebration.
Since Athens, Smart has had to overcome a tremendous amount of adversity just to have the opportunity to fence in Beijing. He stopped fencing for more than a year after the crushing defeats in the 2004 Olympics, but those experiences and memories never left him, and he believes helped him succeed in Beijing.
“Definitely, I am firm believer that you can learn more in defeat than in victory,” he said. “After losing in Athens, I made it a point to train with no regrets and don’t hold back. In the matches that I fenced in today, I was adamant about not holding back and being conservative.”
His long journey back to the pinnacle of fencing certainly had a few bumps in the road. Since he was away from the sport for more than a year, he had to start in the small tournaments - what he described as equivalent to Single A minor league baseball - and work his way back up the rankings during the past two years in order to qualify for this year’s Olympiad.
Meanwhile, in March of this year, Smart spent two weeks in the intensive care unit of an Algerian hospital being treated for a rare blood disease he contracted from something he ate while fencing in a tournament in Africa. Doctors and hospital staff told him he would never fence again, let alone in this year’s Olympics, but he persevered and put in the hard work that set him up for one last chance at Olympic glory.
After the jubilation and raw emotion of the comeback victories, a different kind of emotion took over as he stood with his Olympic teammates Jason Rogers, Tim Morehouse and James Williams on the podium where they received their silver medals.
“On the medal stand the only thing I was thinking about were all of my teammates, coaches, friends and family that helped me get to this point,” Smart said. “It was just as much a tribute to them; I am still extremely appreciative of all the support I have received over the years.”
Two of the people that were no doubt on his mind were his parents Thomas and Audrey Smart. Thomas, who worked for Sports Illustrated, died of a heart attack in 2005, and Audrey died in May of this year after losing her battle with colon cancer.
Although his parents were not there to see his triumphant moment, one person who was there was his younger sister Erinn, who herself won a silver medal for the U.S. foil team two days earlier.
“Quite frankly, I was more nervous watching Erinn compete a couple of days ago than when I was fencing,” Keeth said. “I know how badly she wanted this and how difficult this year has been on her having to care for my mom and me while we were both sick. The fact that she can say she is an Olympic medalist is an amazing feeling.”
Erinn and Keeth began fencing together when they were kids at the Peter Westbrook Academy in Manhattan in 1991, and it only seemed fitting that they were together in Beijing for the highlight of their respective fencing careers.
“Keeth and I have always been instrumental in each other’s fencing careers, so we will continue to provide that stability for each other,” Erinn wrote in an e-mail shortly before the fencing matches began in Beijing. “Our parents raised us to be each other’s biggest supporters, so it will continue to come naturally.”

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