The Notre Dame fencing program received a significant boost to its coaching ranks in the fall of 2007, when epee master Marek Stepien officially came on board as a full-time assistant coach. Stepien – a former Olympic fencer with Poland[apos]s national team who served as a volunteer assistant with the Irish in 2007 – joins head coach Janusz Bednarski and assistant Gia Kvaratskhelia in giving Notre Dame three full-time coaches to lead the Irish in their quest for another NCAA title.
The addition of a second full-time assistant should show immediate dividends in several aspects, as Stepien combines with Bednarski (sabre) and Kvaratskhelia (foil) to provide each weapon with expert one-on-one instruction.
The 43-year-old Stepien spent the past 10 years as a highly-regarded coach in the London area. He became reacquainted with Bednarski at the 2006 USFA Summer Nationals and served as a volunteer with Notre Dame late in its 2007 spring season. Current sophomore Kelly Hurley capped that season by finishing as the women[apos]s epee runner-up at the 2007 NCAAs while current senior Greg Howard (8th) and current junior Karol Kostka (11th) similarly were 2007 All-Americans in men[apos]s epee, guided by Stepien throughout the NCAA.
Stepien captained Poland[apos]s national team and was part of the four-man epee team that placed eighth at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. An accomplished all-around athlete, he also competed in the modern pentathlon (swimming, running, shooting, fencing, horseback riding) at the 1984 World Championships in Romania, and he qualified for the 1988 Olympic pentathlon (in Seoul) but was unable to compete due to injury. The three-time European Fencing Championship participant twice won Poland[apos]s national championship ([apos]89, [apos]90) and was Poland[apos]s top-ranked epee fencer in 1990 and [apos]92. He competed at the World Fencing Championships four times from 1989-94, in addition to fencing at various World Cups.
Stepien posted 1992 Olympic wins over Italy[apos]s Angelo Mazzone, Manizio Randazzo and Stefano Cuomo (all were ranked top-10 in the world). He won 1988 World Cups at Innsbruck, Austria, and Darmstadt, Germany, and defeated Germany[apos]s Arndt Schmitt (the 1988 Olympic champ) at a 1989 World Cup in Heindenheim, Germany.
During his years as a coach and personal instructor, Stepien has become known for his motivational ability and boundless energy. He has proven to be highly effective at making his fencers believe in themselves and encourages a tough physical and mental attitude, through demanding and contemporary training methods.
One of Stepien[apos]s more noteworthy endeavors is the training camp he founded and oversaw, bringing together elite fencers from several countries. These training sessions – dubbed by participants as [quote]Camp Marek[quote] – were held from 2001-06 at the prestigious Olympic Sport Center in Drzonkow, Poland (near Berlin). Stepien[apos]s training camps were considered the best in all of Europe, due to the combination of hard work with a spirited and energizing atmosphere.
Stepien moved to Great Britain in 1997 and quickly made an impact on the London fencing community. He served six years as fencing coach at Cambridge University, overseeing the team[apos]s all-around development while helping mold Cambridge fencing into a winning program with a re-energized level of participation.
The 1998-99 academic year saw Stepien guide Cambridge to an historic win over its rival Oxford, followed by similar wins in 1999-2000 and 2000-01. The men[apos]s fencers later won the 2001 British University Students Association (BUSA) title – Cambridge[apos]s first BUSA fencing title since 1947 – with the men and women going on to win BUSA titles in 2002. Cambridge fencers reached BUSA individual title bouts in 2000 and 2004.
Stepien[apos]s time in England included overseeing the fencing program at City of London School for Boys (CLSB; 1998-2007) and nine years as an instructor with Haverstock Fencing Club (1998-2006), the top epee club in all of Great Britain. He was responsible for fitness and flexibility training at Haverstock while coaching all three weapons. Stepien also coached at the University of London (1999-2000) and Reading Fencing Club (1998-2000).
While at Reading, he helped prepare two elite athletes – Stephanie Cook (gold) and Kate Allenby (bronze) – who posted medalist finishes in the pentathlon at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Cook and Allenby both credited Stepien as a major factor in their Olympic finishes.
His Haverstock fencer Greg Allen twice won England[apos]s Commonwealth Games, was a seven-time World Championship qualifier (from 1998-2005), reached a top-50 world ranking and placed third at the 2001 Innsbruck World Cup. Jonathan May – who trained five years with Stepien, at Haverstock and CLSB – is England[apos]s top-ranked under-14 boys epee fencer (third in u-17) and has fenced in the 2006 and [apos]07 European and World Championships. Andrea Wraith, another of his Haverstock epeeists, won the bronze while representing England in Malaysia at the 1998 Commonwealth Games.
Most recently, Stepien coached fencing at Dulworth College in London (2004-05) and also taught advanced fencing at the American School in London (2004-06). He founded Brixton Fencing Club in 2004 and helped inspire a new generation of fencers. Through the coaching of Stepien, Brixton grew to a thriving club of 30 fencers that included two upstart qualifiers for the 2007 British Youth Championships.
Stepien previously worked twice in the U.S. as an athletics instructor. He served summer stints from 1999-2001 as an Olympic Development Clinic director in Roswell, N.M., helping develop fencers with Olympic potential. Stepien also worked as a tennis instructor during the summers of 1997-2000 at Camp America in Center Harbor, N.H.
Stepien earlier worked six years (1991-97) at Warsaw[apos]s Academy of Physical Education and Rehabilitation (APER), as an instructor in the Integrated Sport Club for the Disabled. He oversaw rehabilitation classes while preparing the academy[apos]s club team to compete in Poland[apos]s first fencing championship for the disabled – in addition to the 1992 and 1996 Paralympic Games (in Barcelona and Atlanta) and World Cups held in Italy (Pisa) and France (Paris and Grenoble). Stepien specialized in coaching adults with quadriplegia, tetraplegia and amputations.
Stepien coached several disabled wheelchair fencers in preparation for the 1996 Paralympics, with his star pupil Jadwiga Polasik going on to win the women[apos]s epee gold. Stepien – who introduced Polasik to fencing – was on the organizing committee for a Poland-USA-France disabled fencing tournament and served as a full-time APER lecturer on the theory of disability in sport (1995-97). He also was a full-time physical education teacher at primary school 247 in Warsaw (1994-97) and a full-time faculty member at the Janusz Kusocinski School of Sport Champions in Warsaw (1992-94), where he lectured and mentored elite young athletes in modern pentathlon.
He ran two London Marathons ([apos]03, [apos]04) and competed in fencing marathons ([apos]99, [apos]02) to support Royal Marsden Hospital and St. Christopher[apos]s Hospice, also biking in the 1998 British Heart Foundation London to Brighton Ride.
Stepien received a 1992 masters in physical education from the Academy of Physical Education and Rehabilitation, also receiving his fencing master diploma from the same institution in [apos]92. He added a postgraduate diploma from the University of Warsaw Faculty of Pedagogy (in politics and management education; [apos]06) and a postgraduate certificate in aspects of European development, from the Warsaw Center of European Integration ([apos]07). Stepien earlier spent four years in PhD studies at APER (1993-97) and received numerous coaching/fitness certificates.
Stepien was born in Krasnik, Poland, grew up in Warsaw and began fencing at age 10 with coach Marek Maky. He later was coached by 1964 epee world champion Bogdan Andrzejewski and Zbigniew Konczalski, during Olympic preparation. Throughout his first 15 years as a fencer, Stepien was guided by Zbigniew Kuciewicz – who acted as a second father for the future Olympian.