While Penn's fencing teams are fairly young this season, their coaches have unparalleled experience.

Many people know that men's and women's head coach Dave Micahnik has coached at Penn for 31 years, but his assistant coach Iosif Vitebskiy also has a rich past in the world of fencing.

Vitebskiy, who is in his seventh year at Penn, has won 19 medals in national championship competition, coached the Ukraine Republic National Team and won a silver medal fencing for the Soviet Union at the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico City.

Vitebskiy originally met Micahnik at the 1968 Olympics when he was representing the USSR, and Micahnik was fencing for the United States.

"We fenced together in Mexico and our teams lived in the same building" Vitebskiy said.

Because the Soviet Union was not well-liked by the rest of the world at the time, Vitebskiy and his teammates endured harsh criticism simply for being from the USSR. However, the United States fencers were amiable towards Vitebskiy and the Soviets.

"Only the American guys understood," Vitebskiy said. "We had a special room where the American guys came all the time and talked with us."

That year Vitebskiy won the silver medal in the epee and established himself as one of the best fencers in the world. He went on to compete for 19 years in national championships for the USSR, where he won 10 gold medals. Vitebskiy also went on to coach the Ukraine Republic National Team for 13 years where he coached five epee fencers to National and Olympic championships.

Seven years ago, an assistant coaching vacancy opened at Penn, and when offered the job by Micahnik, Vitebskiy accepted. He was eager to work with his old friend.

"Dave invited me and I began to work here, and I've been here seven seasons," Vitebskiy said.

Throughout his long and distinguished career, he has practiced fencing every day, and has learned the meaning of hard work. Vitebskiy earned his entire income from fencing, and when other people went to work from 9-to-5, so did he.

"I was a member of the national team for 19 years, and I received a special salary as a member of the team," Vitebskiy said. "I was a professional. Nothing more, only fencing -- six, seven, eight hours every day."

Vitebskiy's hard work and Olympic-caliber skills have set the bar for Penn's fencers and helped to propel them to success. He helped lead the men's team to its first Ivy championship in 15 years during the 1998-99 season and guided the women's team to an Ivy championship last season.

"Iosif has been my coach ever since I've been at Penn, and he really cares about us and his fencers," senior foil fencer Steve Gavalas said. "He focuses on making us better and developing our individual styles."

"When Iosif goes [with us] to national competitions everyone knows who he is," Gavalas added.

This weekend the Penn men and women travel to Brown to compete in the Intercollegiate Fencing Association meets, or IFAs. The IFA is the oldest collegiate athletics organization, running since 1894.

The women's team comes in to the meet at 16-4, and won its first-ever IFA championship at last year's event.

The men are coming off last year's fourth-place finish at IFAs and enter this year's meet with a 13-4 overall record.

"We take a lot of pride in being competitive in it," Gavalas said. But he knows this weekend is not a gauge for the success of the entire season.

"If you lose in the IFAs, it sucks," he said. "But you can go home knowing that you haven't wasted the season."

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