Pole Helps Countryman Win Spot On Olympic Team
CINCINNATI (AP) _ Polish immigrant Adam Skarbonkiewicz was ineligible for the U.S. fencing team, but he helped a former countryman win a spot.
Skarbonkiewicz won the sabre title Monday at the U.S. Fencing Championships, beating Michael D’Asaro 15-13. That knocked D’Asaro out of contention for the Olympic team and handed Thomas Strzalkowski a berth.
``I am so grateful to him for winning,″ Strzalkowski said. ``I’m going to pay him back big time. Dinner is definitely going to be on me.″
Skarbonkiewicz felt he was returning a favor.
``He’s my best friend in America and it was nice to be able to help him out,″ Skarbonkiewicz said. ``I may not be able to go to the Olympics, but I feel a part of me will still be there.″
Skarbonkiewicz, 24, came to the United State from Poland three years ago. He’s not eligible for citizenship for another 20 months.
He initially settled in Rochester, N.Y., then moved to Portland, Ore., where he attends Portland State University and studies physical therapy and sports medicine.
One of the first people he met in the United States was Strzalkowski, who competed with him at the national championships three years ago.
Strzalkowski, 24, a three-time NCAA sabre champion at Penn State from 1992-94, was a member of the 1994 and 1995 U.S. sabre teams. He was on the gold-medal winning team at the 1995 Pan American Games.
Fencers who amass the most points at various tournaments through the year qualify for the Olympic team. Strzalkowski suffered a major setback when he lost in the round of 16 this week.
If D’Asaro had won Monday, he would have moved ahead of Strzalkowski for a spot on the Olympic team. Instead, D’Asaro lost by two points.
``It’s definitely hard to know that he was two touches better than me and that I came that close to making it,″ said D’Asaro, 31, of New York City, who was trying to become the second generation of his family to make the Olympic team.
D’Asaro’s father, Michael Sr., was a member of the 1960 Olympic team and coached the 1976 team.
Strzalkowski, whose hometown is Richmond, Va., watched the final match that determined the Olympic team.
``It was a lot tougher watching it than it would have been playing in it because there was nothing I could do but watch,″ he said.
Skarbonkiewicz knew what was at stake.
``I felt some pressure to win it for him, but I also wanted to win it for myself,″ he said. ``I want to keep training hard and make the Olympic team in four years.″