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Brandeis alumnus wins Olympic silver

By zaronow

Section: Sports

August 29, 2008

Many fencers have come and gone through Coach William Shipman’s program in his 27 years at Brandeis. August 17 however gave a first for Coach Shipman and Brandeis: an Olympic medal-winning Brandeis alumnus. Tim Morehouse ’00, the first alumnus to qualify for the Olympics back in 2004 as a reserve, became the first Brandeis medalist as the US Men’s sabre team surpassed heavily favored Hungary and Russia and picked up the silver, falling to France in the gold medal round.

The silver was the first medal won by the US sabre team since the 1948 games where they brought home the bronze.

“WE DID IT TODAY!” Morehouse wrote in his blog on August 22. “Unbelievable! I keep pinching myself to make sure that I didn’t just dream the fact that we won an Olympic Silver Medal! I have never cried tears of joy until today. I can’t even begin to describe what it felt like to clinch our medal and especially in the dramatic fashion with which it occurred.”

For Coach Shipman, it was another pinnacle reached in his long reconstruction and rebuilding of the Brandeis fencing program.

“When I first got here,” Shipman explained, “it was the men’s teams and the women’s teams that were more separated. The women’s team was quite accomplished, one of the better handful of teams in New England and had been prominent nationally on occasion. The men’s team was not, it was more of a club team with little structure and took kids directly out of phys ed classes straight to the team, so it’s a big difference between now and then.”

Shipman later added, “To be competitive, even a low national level, you have to recruit, so we endeavored on that. I came from Penn where recruiting was pretty crucial to the program and there’s, we’re the National Champions while I was there. So we just started recruiting and we still trained a lot of athletes on campus until the early 90’s probably.”

Tim Morehouse could never have predicted where fencing would take him when he first took part in the sport. “It got me out of gym when I was in 7th grade, so I signed for it,” Morehouse explained, “[I] didn’t know what fencing was but I kind of wanted to get out of PE so I joined the fencing team, and I didn’t go to fencing practice but I also didn’t go to PE and actually almost got kicked off the team for missing practice, the coach sat me down and was like, “you miss another practice, you’re off the team.” And then from that point on, I decided that I enjoyed it enough to basically work at it and really didn’t miss a practice from that point on.”

Morehouse and Shipman crossed paths at the Mamaroneck Invitational in 1996. “Well we’ve had a relationship with his high school and his high school coach [Riverdale’s Martin Schneider] for quite a long time.” Shipman explained, “We’ve had about five or six kids from his high school here, so I always take a look at his better fencers at that school in Riverdale. And I was at that Mamaroneck Tournament and his coach mentioned him to me so I watched him, and asked him if he would be interested. I could see he was a good fencer, you know we’re always on the lookout for good fencers, we’re in no position to be selective at that point so we’re glad to have him. He actually wanted to go to Penn but Penn didn’t take him up on his offer so we’re lucky to get him.”

“I was very cocky when I came to school initially,” Morehouse recalled, “although I wasn’t recruited, but I felt could beat a lot of people. My first year was actually humbling, I didn’t do very well, and it made me rethink everything and kind of realize that, you know, continue to work hard but it was going to be a bigger challenge than I expected it was going to be. In terms of my year, I think I was very unpolished, you know I was six foot two still but hadn’t grown into my height, so I was a little bit, I was not as coordinated as I would become later on.”

Coach Shipman was there to witness everything.

“He was still gangly as a freshman here and then as a sophomore, he was not too strong, he had mono his freshman year so that helped him, set him back a little bit but he developed physically and became much stronger, bigger, you know, it’s all between the ages of 18 and 22 roughly, so maybe he’s little bit late bloomer physically. And he started training more, I think he started fencing more often, really putting more effort and he certainly became stronger you know on his – used his axis more strategically right along.”

In his last tenure at Brandeis, Morehouse was a three time UAA Champion, three time All-American, served as captain in his last two years with the squad, and in 2000, was voted NCAA’s men’s Fencer of the Year after leading the Judges to a top-10 finish in the Division I NCAA championships. Although he had built himself up on South Street, Morehouse still had a way to go. So Morehouse combined his two passions: fencing and education.

“I joined Teach for America after graduating in 2000,” Morehouse said, “and I taught in New York, and New York is where kind of a hub for state-level fencing for the men so while I was teaching, I was also training and, you know I started to slowly like, every year, I moved up in the national ranking when I graduated from Brandeis and each year I moved up about four or five spots and then in 2003, I think I was sixth in the country and I was within a shade of making the team, and in ’04 I trained, I coached while I was doing it but for the most part I was training full time and, you know, I was fortunate enough to make my first team, I finished fourth in 2004 from that year on, I was making the world champion team every year.”

Morehouse made the 2004 squad and was at Athens as an alternate where he witnessed teammate and friend Keeth Smart lose back-to-back 45-44 matches dropping the Americans to fourth place. “2004 was a great experience,” Morehouse said, “it was the first team I made. Even though I didn’t get to compete in Athens, I went, I saw everything you know when you’re sitting on the bench, you feel like you’re almost in there, you can really feel the intensity of it, and I think that the reason why the team is able to fence so well at the Olympics was because of a bad experience.”

After the eyes were dried, Morehouse and the US men’s sabre team returned to work, and before long, 2008 rolled around, and the sabre team entered the competition ranked seventh and considered heavy underdogs. The US first faced off against world champion Hungary where Keeth Smart pulled off a 45-44 victory in the final match to send the US to the semi-finals against Russia. Once again, Smart provided the heroics with another 45-44 win to send the US to the gold medal finals, where they fell to France 45-37.

“France, they were favored to win, they have a very solid team up and down their line up” Morehouse said, “…Basically we beat Hungary and Russia to make the gold medal match and both of those are professional teams, Hungary was the world champion last year and we are, I worked 30 hours a week the last two years so it was pretty remarkable. Keeth Smart worked also that we basically, a team that’s not professional, not making money, you know, fencing was able to beat, you know, professional teams, kind of like a triple-A team making it to the World Series, guys who aren’t making too much money are knocking off million dollar players, and that’s potentially what we did, and it was amusing…”

Morehouse had outscored Hungary 7-2 in the opening round and was responsible for 17 points in the semi-finals, including a critical 7-5 victory against the Russians. France shut Morehouse down to seven points. Earlier in the Olympics, Morehouse was defeated in the individual sabre competition and finished 22nd overall.

Even with time to process everything returning to the States, Morehouse still finds difficulty in conveying what winning the medal was like and the aftermath of it. “It was just one of the most amazing experiences in my life, it’s like burned into my memory – the emotion, the feeling, all of it and it’s something I’ll cherish and tell my children and grandkids about for the rest of my life. Just amazing, to win a medal for your country…seeing the American flag being raised and knowing that you were a part of that, it’s a tremendous feeling.”

With a silver medal in hand, the future is an ambiguous decision for Morehouse. When asked about his future plans he replied, “I haven’t decided yet if I’ll go on to London and try to make that team. Right now, just trying to figure out, for the next few months I’m going to take time and kind of enjoy the celebrations that go along with winning a medal. And I’ll try to figure out what I’m going to do with my career and how fencing fits in. But the short term plan is to continue fencing and see how long if it continues to work with my career, and if I find I continue to enjoy it, then I will obviously stay healthy and continue in the fall but if there’s another path that lies ahead in education or something like that, then I could see going that route as well. We’ll see, time will tell at this point.”

The only certainty in the near future for Morehouse is a visit back to Brandeis where plans for a “Tim Morehouse Day” are underway for the next couple of months. Accompanying him will be a lovely silver guest all the way from Beijing. It’s an event that Morehouse looks forward to. “People at Brandeis have been so amazing to me. I’ve gotten countless messages on Facebook and from email from students, from alumni, from incoming freshman and I just want to thank everyone in the Brandeis community for supporting me, its been tremendous, and I’m looking forward to bringing the silver medal to campus and letting everyone check it out and really sharing the dream with the Brandeis community.”

So congratulations are due to two champions of Brandeis, Tim Morehouse and William Shipman: one Olympian and one of the many individuals who helped that Olympian reach that mark.

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