Fencer Siobhan Byrne has found success at the end of her Ohio State career, looks forward to competing for Ireland in 2008 Olympic Games
June 17, 2008
By Andrew Schraedly, Ohio State Athletics Communications
The list is impressive. Traveling to Beijing to compete in the 2008 Summer Olympics. Graduating at the top of your collegiate class and going to medical school. Winning an NCAA silver medal and helping lead your team to a national championship. Visiting the White House and meeting the President.
All of these experiences are considered once in a lifetime opportunities. For Siobhan Byrne, a recent graduate from Ohio State and a former member of the fencing team, all of these events are happening in a six-month span.
“I’ve been fortunate that all my goals have come together right now at the end of my college career,” Byrne said. “I didn’t expect for all of these things to happen, but it’s been exciting now that they have.”
Byrne, who grew up in Germany but has dual citizenship in Germany and Ireland, will compete at the Olympic Games under the Irish flag. She has never lived there permanently, but her ties to the Emerald Isle are strong.
“My dad is Irish and most of my extended family still lives in Ireland,” Byrne said. “I visit almost every year and I love it there. It’s exciting to represent them in the Olympics.”
The trip to Beijing for Byrne will be the first for an Irish fencer since the Barcelona games in 1992. Although the world may not be used to an Irish fencer, Byrne is no stranger to international competition.
In 2002, she won bronze at the Junior European Championships in Conegliano, Italy and twice won silver at the Junior World Cup. In 2007, she finished 15th at the World University Games in Bangkok, Thailand. Not surprisingly, she is ranked as the No. 1 Irish fencer.
In March, Byrne went 22-1 at the NCAA Championships, which tied for the best overall record at the event. Her dominant performance helped lead the Buckeyes to their second team national championship in five years and cemented her legacy as one of only five Ohio State fencers to garner All-American honors all four years.
Despite her significant collegiate and international success, qualifying for Beijing looked to be a tall task. Because Ireland did not earn a team spot at the Games, Byrne would have to qualify as an individual. Her first chance came in Ghent, Belgium in 2007, where she fenced against other individuals who were not a member of a qualifying team.
She needed a third place finish to qualify. She finished fourth.
“It was tough to come so far and then not qualify,” Byrne said. “I knew I had another shot in a year and I would have to get it then.”
To prepare for the next qualifier in Istanbul, Turkey, which would come shortly after the conclusion of the collegiate season, Byrne adjusted her training regimen. Instead of traveling to high-level international competitions, she would stay in the United States and concentrate on the collegiate season and only travel to a handful of contests. The strategy paid off.
“I was burned out by the amount of action after the qualifier in Ghent, so I decided to stay in the United States, which has a strong fencing base, and not travel internationally,” Byrne said. “It worked, because I was much fresher in Istanbul and I had a mental advantage over the competition because they hadn’t seen me in a year.”
Her 15-14 win over Andreea Pelei of Romania in April secured a second-place finish, which qualified her for the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. Before that, however, she had to complete her undergraduate career at Ohio State.
On June 8, Byrne joined nearly 8,000 graduates in Ohio Stadium and received her degree in health information management and systems. Despite the demands placed on her by competing in a varsity sport, Byrne graduated Summa Cum Laude, was on the Dean’s List, was a four-time OSU Scholar Athlete and was a three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection.
Additionally, she was named a finalist for the Big Ten Medal of Honor and earned a scholarship for medical school.
“The Olympics are an incredible opportunity, but I feel like getting my degree from Ohio State is one of the most important things I will ever do,” Byrne said. “It’s something I can carry with me the rest of my life.”
The journey for Byrne is just beginning this summer. After a World Cup event in Las Vegas in June, she will join the fencing team in being honored at the White House in a national championship ceremony June 24.
From there, she will travel to Kiev, Ukraine for the European Championships in early July. Following the conclusion of that event, Byrne and Ohio State head coach Vladimir Nazlymov will travel to Tianjin, China for a 10-day training camp that precedes the Olympics. Opening Ceremonies in Beijing are set for August 8, but Byrne will be unable to walk with the Irish Olympic delegation into National Stadium.
“The first day of the Olympics is the first and only day for women’s sabre, so I decided to skip Opening Ceremonies in favor of getting a good night of sleep before the competition,” Byrne explained. “I’ll be able to stay in Beijing and do a lot of sight-seeing for the remainder of the Games and I can see the Closing Ceremonies.”
Following the Olympics, Byrne will return to Columbus and continue in her internship at the Ohio State Medical Center and apply for entry into the Ohio State College of Medicine. If it works out, she hopes she can stick around the fencing team as a volunteer assistant coach.
There is no doubt her experiences will help the next generation of Buckeye fencers realize their goals and earn their own once in a lifetime opportunities.