Pete Conomikes, 1921-2007: Lifelong fencer, legendary coach

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November 14, 2007

7:01 PM

__Fencing Coach Pete
Conomikes sustained the College’s fencing program__

Fencers often joked that their 86-year-old coach was immortal.
Pete Conomikes fought in World War II and Vietnam. He worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. And at 86, he was still out-maneuvering members of the College’s fencing team.

p. But the fencing community lost a legend Saturday afternoon, when the car Conomikes was driving veered off the interstate near Richmond and ran into a tree. He died shortly after.

p. “I couldn’t even try to count the number of times over the years that we’ve made jokes about Pete living forever,” fencer Lauren Thompson ’09 said. “I think that’s actually why so many people are having trouble with this whole thing.”

p. “He is going to be a huge loss,” she added. “It is hard to find a coach that dedicated to a sport and to a team.”

p. Conomikes had been with the team since 1972, when he joined the coaching staff of the then-varsity program. He had been a top-rated fencer and had trained under legendary fencing master Giorgio Santelli.

p. “Even until the time of his death, his blade-work was still better than pretty much any person on the team,” Thompson said. “Just last Thursday, I contemplated asking him for a lesson but didn’t because I wasn’t in the mood to be totally exhausted.”

p. According to former fencing club president Luke Davis ’07, when the College decided in the 1990s that the fencing team would no longer receive College funding, Conomikes continued running the program using donations from team alumni.

p. “That direct loyalty to Pete should tell you something about who he was as a coach,” Davis said. “[The fencing team alumni] were doing it because Pete called them, and that’s sort of the way it was with Pete. They would do anything for him because they knew he would do anything for them.”

p. Davis said that Conomikes touched the lives of thousands of fencers over the years, and that he will be remembered both for his tough attitude about coaching and for the way he cared deeply about each of his fencers as people.

p. “I just can’t tell you how much he meant to all of us,” Davis said. “Pete was just, almost beyond human.”

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