At the Philadelphia Invitational on January 21-22, fencing stars Tamar Gordon ’26 and Chloe Gouhin ’25 and their teammates spent the two-day-long competition securing five wins — defeating NYU, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Temple, and Wayne State.
Gouhin, a sophomore majoring in computer science and minoring in psychology, has been fencing sabre since she was 10 years old. Gordon, a first-year student from Vancouver, British Columbia, has been fencing sabre for five years and is interested in studying biology.
Gordon and Gouhin play through the Columbia-Barnard Athletic Consortium, a collaboration that supports Barnard athletes competing with Columbia undergraduates in the Ivy League Athletic Conference and NCAA Division 1 Athletics — making Barnard the only women’s college to offer this opportunity.
As they find the delicate balance between their academics and athletic endeavors, Gordon and Gouhin share — in the Q&A below — what keeps them motivated and focused under pressure.
What expectations do you set before heading into a competition?
CG: I try not to have any expectations when I go into a competition. However, being part of one of the most competitive collegiate fencing teams in the nation is a reminder that we always have a target on our backs. I always go into any competition ready to step up for my team.
TG: I have high expectations for myself regardless of when I compete. However, I have found that setting expectations based on my competition wins over my losses causes a lot of stress. Recently, I have been trying to have expectations that focus on the day of a competition and how I feel about my fencing. This helps me to zero in on particular skills that need improvement.
What is your preparation routine in the days leading up to a competition?
TG: I like to prepare myself physically by decreasing the practice intensity the week before a tournament. I usually play the same playlist of French or Italian songs that make me feel relaxed and happy during warmups and on the trip to the competition venue.
CG: Sleep! I make sure to get as much sleep as possible. Events usually last all day, so getting rest is important. The only other thing I need to perform my best is an energy drink and my party playlist, which includes my favorite song: “Hotel Room Service” by Pitbull.
Do you have any goals or metrics you want to reach this season?
CG: There are two major competitions at which we aim to place first each year: the national championship and the Ivy League championship. While both of these events are team-based, they also have an individual component. My goal for each year is to help my teammates win the championship title together, while also placing first in the individual portion.
TG: I’m very excited to compete and cheer on my teammates at the Ivy League championships, this season. I am especially excited to represent Canada at the Junior World Championships in Bulgaria this April. I hope to qualify for the Senior World Championships in Italy this coming July, too.
How do you celebrate a big win?
TG: I usually celebrate by calling and texting those closest to me. Sharing my success allows me to show my gratitude, and it helps me enjoy the moment. If the competition is abroad, I celebrate by watching any and all Disney movies available on the flight!
CG: Shockingly enough, even after being around the same people for an entire weekend, I don’t want to celebrate with anybody else. The fencing team is like family to me. We win and we lose together. Usually, we’ll have some sort of activity planned where everybody can be together and enjoy each other — without fencing.
What keeps you motivated and balanced to uphold the “winner mentality?"
CG: Motivation is a difficult thing to harness, but it is so much easier when I have people I care about relying on me. I may not be able to fence my best for myself, but fighting for my teammates comes naturally.
TG: One of my biggest challenges is maintaining a positive attitude throughout a competition and not allowing a loss to bring me down. It’s helpful for me to focus on each opponent I face separately — going touch by touch. I’ve also found that cheering on my teammates gets me into a positive state of mind. I feed off of the team’s confidence and energy.