By Joseph Staszewski
Keeth Smart needed a bit of convincing and reinforcement of his skills and potential as a sabre fencer entering his freshman year at St. John’s University.
Smart, a Flatbush native, came in feeling unworthy of his scholarship and unsure of himself. That quickly changed. He won the NCAA title in his first year and it transformed his outlook on the present and the future.
“I realized that if I kept working, I could do some really cool things in this sport,” Smart said.
Extraordinary things are more like it.
Smart, who recently was inducted into the St. John’s Athletics Hall of Fame, went on to become one of the best United States sabre fencers ever. He was a four-time All-American and a two-time individual NCAA national champion. Smart helped St. John’s win the 2001 NCAA team title.
He was a three-time Olympian with the U.S. men’s saber team and helped lead the squad to a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, its best-ever finish. Smart became the first-ever U.S. fencer to be ranked No. 1 in the world in 2003. Medaling and standing on the podium were a life highlight.
“It’s a dream,” Smart said. “The Olympics is once every four years and the hardest competition because it’s once every four years. To have everything come together at that moment is really special. It’s something that I am really proud of.”
Smart, now 34, retired from fencing after the 2008 Olympics despite being ranked No. 2 in the world at the time. He still believed he accomplished all that he could at the time and was ready to move onto the next stage of his life. He left a tremendous legacy behind
“He is probably one of the best American men’s sabre fencers,” said former St. John’s teammate and Hall of Fame inductee Arlene Steven, a fellow 2000 Olympian. “He’s going to be in the Fencing Hall of Fame. He’s a legend in fencing and he probably will be for some time.”
Smart has moved on from his athletic career and got his MBA from Columbia University and is working as a vice president of retirement strategies for Bank of America/Merrill Lynch. He still finds time to run a local fencing youth organization. He is currently a nominee to be enshrined in the U.S. Fencing Hall of Fame, but considers his St. John’s induction the highest honor he’s received so far.
“This is definitely the highlight of my career,” Smart said.