Last Sunday, July 25th, was a special day for Romain Cannone and New York Fencing Academy (NYFA), as the first-time Olympian captured the men’s epee individual competition, earning the first gold medal for France in Tokyo.
Cannone, born in France but reared mostly in the United States, became the first student from NYFA in Coney Island, Brooklyn, to be crowned Olympic Champion.
A relative afterthought to the fencing world and the 47th world-ranked fencer, Cannone was a replacement and youngest member of the French team. But he would not be denied.
“I went into the competition telling myself, ‘don’t be disappointed in yourself, be yourself, do your game,” the 24-year-old Cannone recalled in a press release. “I love to play and that’s what I did during the matches and I didn’t feel any stress because I expressed myself. I started fencing in the USA, and France has a long history of champions and a real know-how of fencing.”
Entering the Olympics with a positive attitude, Cannone was prepared to fence the 2012 Venezuelan Olympic champion, Ruben Limardo Gascon, and won the bout, 15-12. Next, Cannone eliminated No. 7 world-ranked fencer Bas Verwijlen from the Netherlands by a score of 15-11. Cannone then took on the world’s No. 2 epee fencer Sergey Bida from Russia, and defeated him, 15-12.
For the semi-final bout, Cannone faced Ukrainian Igor Reizlin and won, 15-10. In the finals, Cannone challenged the top epeeist in the world, Gergely Siklós of Hungry, and nailed down the gold medal with a 15-10 score
Cannone’s incredible history-making debut performance earned France its first individual Olympic gold medal in men’s epee since 1992.
Cannone picked up the epee for the first time in 2010, when he began training with coach Misha Mokretsov, who had just opened his first club in Brooklyn. Eleven years later, Coach Mokretsov shared the news with pride in an online post.
“One of my first students, Romain Cannone became an Olympic Champion. Looking back at his path as an athlete starting from a small twelve year old skinny boy to this amazing fencer, I know that he deserved every little bit of this medal,” Mokretsov explained. “Romain started fencing relatively late, didn’t have his US citizenship, and couldn’t fence many events here. But what he had was a huge love and passion for the sport, a strong work ethic, and sportsmanship. Everyone who knows Romain knows he is a great person besides being an amazing athlete.”
“I want to congratulate Romain for the achievement that proves when you put your heart into the sport, when you make sacrifices to move to a new level, when you stay true to yourself, when you remember your roots and value people that impacted your life, you will inevitably succeed because you deserve and earn it,” Mokrestsov continued. “And no matter how many obstacles Romain had on his way, he never gave up, always worked to the top of his abilities, and stayed a kind, respectful and loving person.”
Mokretsov credits Cecile and Arnaud Cannone for raising their son to be “a true gentleman and the best role model there can be for any athlete.”
He also thanked Coach Dima Chumak, who helped train Cannone for a couple of years while in high school in Westchester and starting college in Connecticut. But when Cannone realized he had to take a big chance and move to France to try to qualify for their senior team to pursue his fencing dreams, his New York coach supported him.
“It was a difficult decision for him,” Mokretsov said. “He could have stayed in the United States, given it all up, pursued his business studies and worked in New York. But no, he took the idea to the end. He was so passionate.”
Never doubting his fencing abilities, Cannone fenced away with a fairytale ending.
“I was shocked and truly happy, I didn’t know how to celebrate,” he said. “I just felt this happiness and this energy. I was living the moment fully and completely and I also felt the good energy from my team.”
— Jerry Del Priore