NEW YORK - George Kolombatovich, Columbia's head fencing coach since 1979, will retire after 33 years at Columbia University, Dr. M. Dianne Murphy, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Physical Education, announced today.
"We are announcing the retirement of one of Columbia's longest-tenured head coaches today," said Dr. Murphy. "Head Fencing Coach George Kolombatovich has presided over some of Columbia's most successful teams and notable student-athletes. It truly is the end of an era for Columbia Fencing. We wish George the very best in the future."
Since arriving on Morningside Heights in 1978 as an assistant coach, Kolombatovich served as Columbia's head fencing coach for 32 seasons, starting in 1979. From 1983-2005, he served as Co-Head Fencing Coach with Dr. Aladar Kogler. Overall, his coaching match record is 286-114 (.715 winning percentage) in men's fencing and 311-83 (.789) in women's fencing.
"I am so very proud to have been the head coach at Columbia for the past three-plus decades," remarked Kolombatovich. "I am most proud of the tremendous record of success of the Columbia fencing program, and the many fencing student-athletes with whom I have worked so closely over the years."
With Kolombatovich at the helm, Columbia has had a very long run as one of the nation's premier college fencing programs. His Columbia teams have won 17 Ivy League men's fencing titles and eight Ivy League women's fencing titles over the past 32 years.
Working together with Kogler as co-head coach, Kolombatovich led the Columbia men's fencing program to the national title in three consecutive years from 1987, 1988 and 1989. After the NCAA changed the fencing championships to a combined men and women's format, Kolombatovich and Kogler coached the Lions to the 1992 and 1993 NCAA Championships.
In addition to building numerous championship teams, Kolombatovich has also coached some of the premier collegiate and international fencers over the past three decades.
Seventeen Columbia fencers have won individual NCAA fencing titles during Kolombatovich's tenure, including Columbia Athletics Hall of Fame inductees Katy Bilodeau '87CC, Robert Cottingham '88CC, Jon Normile '89CC, Tzu Moy '90CC and Ben Atkins '93CC as well as Jeffrey Spear '10CC, who was named the recipient of the NCAA Top VIII award in January 2011. In addition, many Columbians who competed for Kolombatovich also represented the United States in Olympic competition, including 2008 Beijing Games Silver Medalists Erinn Smart '01BC and James Williams '08CC.
"George is a highly recognized and decorated member of the international fencing community," notes M. Dianne Murphy. "His accomplishments at Columbia are truly impressive."
A well-known figure in national and international fencing, Kolombatovich has coached the United States team in six Junior World Championships. He has served as Chief of Mission and Coach of the US teams in seven Junior Pan American championships.
A Fédération Internationale d'Escrime (FIE) A-rated referee, Kolombatovich was elected by the FIE Congress in December 2000, for a four-year term to the extremely important and powerful Commission d'Arbitrage, the Referee Commission. This is the group that selects all referees for the World Championships and is also responsible for assigning them at the Championships. Kolombatovich is the first native-born US resident to be on this Commission.
He was reelected in 2004 to head the commission, the first non-European person to hold that post. Kolombatovich is the author of the FIE's first written test for referees and works with referee development and testing both internationally and nationally. He is also a member, since 1980, of the United States Fencing Association's (USFA) Fencing Officials Commission. He has also been a fencing referee at the 1984, 1992, and 1996 Olympic Games.
"Columbia Fencing has had a tremendous run with George at the helm of the program," says Murphy. "His knowledge of the sport is truly unparalleled. George will be difficult to replace."
"I have made so many wonderful relationships over the years at Columbia," said Kolombatovich. "I will fondly remember the friends and colleagues that I have worked with, as I move on to this very exciting next stage of my fencing life."
A fine fencer in his own right, Kolombatovich is a former National Masters Champion. He and his wife, Etta '98GS, have left a long legacy at Columbia. Their four children, Gail, Erika '90CC, George '93CC '98LAW and Glenn '94CC '99BUS, have received five Columbia degrees among them.
Columbia will launch a national search for a new head fencing coach immediately.