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Nick Itkin: The (Humble) Heart of a Champion

June 7, 2018

By Daniel Richardson ‘20

NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Consider this list for a moment:

  • ACC Men’s Foil Individual Champion
  • National Collegiate Men’s Foil Champion
  • Junior Men’s Foil Individual World Champion
  • First U.S. fencer to win individual Junior World (FIE), Division I (U.S. Fencing) and NCAA Championship titles in the same season

This impressive set of accolades would be a dream come true for any fencing competitor to achieve in a lifetime, but Nick Itkin is no ordinary fencer. He has accomplished all of this in his inaugural season with the Fighting Irish and many think this is just the beginning of an illustrious career for the 6-1 freshman out of Los Angeles.

When asked to comment about Itkin’s recent performance at the National Collegiate Fencing Championships, coach Gia Kvaratskhelia provided rave reviews.

“He was stellar,” Kvaratskhelia said. “He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen — as a freshman, as anyone. He breezed through the field and delivered a masterpiece in the finals.”

Itkin’s journey all began with an upbringing surrounded by athletic parents and relatives. His father, Michael, was a professional fencer in Ukraine and has continued to stay involved in the sport as a coach. Further adding to the family’s history of athletic excellence, both his mother and grandmother competed for the Ukrainian gymnastics team.

Despite these impressive family roots, it took time for him to develop a world-class skill set. He believes his development as a fencer really started to occur after spending much of his childhood playing tennis. Through this activity he was able to elevate his hand-eye coordination, agility and speed to new levels. As Itkin recalls, he failed to make any major breakthroughs on the national stage until just a few years ago.

“My first good result didn’t really occur until I participated on the 16 and under circuits,” Itkin said. “I was able to get my first win on the international stage then, giving me a lot of confidence moving forward.”

The confidence he speaks of, however, should not be confused with a brash or arrogant demeanor. He prefers to maintain a low profile, refusing to let all the attention and early success get in the way of his ultimate goal: an Olympic medal.

According to the most recent rankings from USA Fencing, his aspirations are well within reach. He is currently the top-ranked junior and fifth-ranked senior in the United States for men’s foil. If he wishes to compete in the next summer Olympic Games, he will have to break into the top four of the senior ranks.

Itkin will have a chance to keep improving his craft as a member of Notre Dame’s two-time defending national champion fencing team next season. In fact, the opportunity to compete against some of the sport’s brightest stars was a big reason why he committed to the university in the first place.

“It was just the best fit for me overall,” Itkin said. “There is so much support for the athletes here and I knew that I would be going up against some of the best competition out there.”

Of course, this commitment also meant that he would be taking courses at one of the more academically rigorous institutions in the country. With such a large portion of his time committed to training and competitions, it has been difficult at times to balance the various responsibilities of being a college student.

“It has been really tough, but professors have been super helpful with sending homework and missed work,” Itkin said. “I will have tournaments where I miss three days in a week and it can be stressful at times.”

This is one of the many challenges that Itkin has willingly embraced during his first year of studies. He plans on earning a degree from the Mendoza College of Business by the time his collegiate fencing career comes to a close.

As students around campus celebrate the end of another year of classes, Itkin prepares to make great strides in training during the upcoming summer offseason. Until then, he will be traveling to Shanghai, China, to participate in the Senior Grand Prix from May 18-20. Despite the major implications that this event might have on Olympic qualifying, Itkin is treating this opportunity as business as usual. His uncanny ability to stay within himself and not succumb to the big moment will be essential then and in the future as he embarks on a quest to become one of the world’s best.


Daniel Richardson is a rising junior accountancy major living in Keenan Hall. He has been a part of the FIM athletics communications student workforce since August 2016.