Eli Dershwitz is a Jewish American Olympic saber fencer. In 2014, when he won the US Men’s Saber National Championship, he became the youngest male championship holder. He competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics, where he lost in the opening round, and is headed to Tokyo in 2021 for the delayed 2020 Olympics as the world no. 2 — hoping to win a medal this time.
Here are 18 things to know about the 25-year-old Olympic fencer:
1. Eli Dershwitz was born in Sherborn, Massachusetts, to Jewish parents Renee Goetzler and Mark Dershwitz. His birthday is September 23, 1993, making him a Libra.
2. His maternal grandparents are Holocaust survivors. As Eli explains, “I am the grandson of two Holocaust survivors. My maternal grandmother was born in Tarnow, Poland and survived the war hidden in a barn with her family by a Polish gentile farmer and his family. My maternal grandfather was born in Jaslo, Poland. He and his family fled Poland and moved eastward before settling in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.”
3. When he was 5, he walked into Zeta Fencing to watch his brother, Philip, finish a lesson. He thought: “That’s cool. I can hit people over the head with a sword and not get in trouble.” He started fencing at age 9.
4. “I’ve never been scared of anybody, whether I was a young kid coming up to the older levels or where I am now,” said Dershwitz. “I don’t care if someone is ranked ahead of me or if they’re faster than me or if they’re taller than me. If I’m smart enough, I can find ways to beat them. That’s one of the reasons I fell in love with this sport.”
5. He has a twin sister, Sally, and an older brother, Phil. Sally and Eli celebrated their b’nai mitzvah in November 2008 at Temple Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Natick, Massachusetts.
6. “I celebrate the Jewish holidays with my extended family and consider myself a proud member of the Jewish community,” Eli says. “I feel proud to be a Jewish-American Olympic athlete. The Jewish community has been very supportive throughout my journey to the Olympics, and I look forward to representing them on the world stage.”
7. He graduated from Dover-Sherborn High School in 2014, then went to Harvard, where he majored in history and graduated in 2019 (he took off the 2015-2016 school year to compete in the Rio Olympics). Here’s the Dershwitz fam at Eli’s college graduation:
8. At Harvard, he was a member of the varsity Harvard Crimson fencing team, where he became a First Team All-American and All-Ivy League. He won back-to-back NCAA championships in 2017 and 2018.
9. “I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone personally who was an Olympian. So, to have one in the family is nothing short of incredible,” his dad, Mark, says.
10. After the 2016 Olympic games, he lost in the first round. “I tried so hard to stay calm and not freak out,” he recalls of 2016, but that was the wrong strategy. “I’ve never gone back and watched that match, but I remember how crappy I felt. Probably the worst I felt in my entire life.”
11. “You start to question yourself and how it’s possible to work really hard and end up not performing at the end of the season at the biggest tournaments,” he said. “It’s tough to go home and train after that.” Yet, he picked himself back up and kept going.
12. He got the Olympic rings tattooed:
13. Dershwitz was ranked No. 1 in the world in the summer of 2018. In Tokyo, he will aim to become the fifth U.S. man to win a medal in saber fencing. No American man has ever won gold in saber fencing.
14. “Honestly, it all happened so fast,” he said, talking about the Tokyo delay. “I remember I qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Games on March 7, 2020, on my mom’s birthday — got to call her from Europe tell her all the good news, and you know, was trying so hard at that point. And then a week or two later, with Tokyo getting postponed for an entire year, it was definitely tough on myself, on my teammates, a lot of our training partners, we were really working together for so long and had to take a huge break.”
15. He’s 6’1″ and left-handed.
16. “I never want to lose because I feel like I didn’t work hard enough.” Here’s a great interview with Eli:
17. During the COVID-19 pandemic, his sister Sally was working on the frontlines caring for patients.
THANK YOU to all #TheRealHeroes who are tirelessly & bravely working on the front lines.
Special shoutout to my twin sister, Sally, as she continues to care for patients in need! 👩⚕️❤️#TeamUSA pic.twitter.com/v8JBxjOt5e
— Eli Dershwitz (@EliDershwitz) May 9, 2020
But they also spent time in Maine together with their family:
18. “Fencing is my passion because I love the intensity and the competition spirit, I love the physical and mental battle that surfaces during competitions, but I also really love the experience that the sport’s given me,” Eli says.
Bonus: A custom Eli Dershwitz trading card, just for you!!