Nick ItkinNewsFencing

Since His Tokyo Debut, Fencer Nick Itkin Has Risen To The Top Of Men’s Foil

by Bob Reinert

Nick Itkin celebrates defeating Miles Chamley-Watson in the men's individual foil semifinals at the Pan American Games Santiago 2023 on Oct. 31, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Getty Images)

When he was growing up in Los Angeles, Nick Itkin had a predictable daily routine. After school, he would go to his father’s gym, where he’d watch fencers parry while doing his homework.

“Our family spent all our days in that gym,” Itkin recalled. “We’re all naturally very competitive in everything.”

Sports were a way of life for the Itkins. Before his parents emigrated from Ukraine, dad Michael had been an elite fencer, while mom Tatyana was a member of that country’s rhythmic gymnastics team. Nick’s sister Julia — 12 years his senior — became a member of the U.S. rhythmic gymnastics national team.

“It was just interesting to be in that kind of household, where everything we did, we always tried to be best,” Nick said.

The lessons he learned in those early days served him well too, both academically and athletically. The 24-year-old Notre Dame graduate is now one of the top men’s foil fencers in the world.

Itkin made his Olympic debut at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, where he won a bronze medal in the men’s team event. Since then, he’s been on a tear, winning a pair of individual medals at the world championships and recently ascending to No. 1 in the world rankings. And earlier this month he claimed his first FIE Grand Prix win at a tournament in Washington, D.C.

Based on these results, Itkin has already done enough to secure a trip to the Olympic Games Paris 2024 this summer for his second Games appearance — and this time he’s aiming for gold.

“It’s always been a dream of mine,” Itkin said. “I feel confident individually and in team. I know we have a great team prepared. I know that we are definitely capable. It’s just showing up on that day and fencing the best.”

A longtime star in the youth levels of the sport, Itkin had already won NCAA and junior world titles by the time he arrived in Tokyo three years ago. Even still, the Olympics proved to be a big eye-opener. Itkin, who in addition to the team bronze medal finished 12th individually, described the Games as “just a very new experience for me.”

“I think the pressure I was expecting, but not necessarily at that level,” he said.

(L-R) Anton Borodachev (Team ROC) competes against Nick Itkin during the second-round bout in the men's individual foil at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on July 26, 2021 in Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Getty Images)

Since then, though, Itkin has won a pair of medals at the world championships — bronze in 2022, silver in 2023 — and gained invaluable international experience.

“I think this time around, I’m coming in a lot more prepared and (with) a lot more expected,” he said, “and I’m also in a lot better shape than I was back then.”

Most notable to Itkin are his world championships medals. Prior to last year, no U.S. man had won an individual medal at consecutive world championships.

“To be able to medal individually back-to-back, it shows my growth as an athlete and shows how I’m able to handle these high-level pressure situations,” said Itkin, who also has a team bronze medal from the 2022 world championships. “I’m just happy with the trajectory that I’m on and just focusing on being consistent now. I’ve also grown as a fencer just through experience over the years.”

That showed this month at the Grand Prix event in Washington, D.C. In front of a lively home crowd, the 6-foot-2 Itkin dominated his opponents, winning his bouts 15-5, 15-11, 15-9, 15-4, 15-6 and 15-12.

Following a brief injury setback last year when he tore the hamstring in his right leg during a world cup event, Itkin is back to full strength.

“I was able to recover quickly,” he said. “That’s been my only injury.”

Now, he’s training full-time in L.A. in preparation for the Olympics.

“Going into the last Olympics, I was one of the youngest fencers, and now I’m right in the peak age of fencing,” he said. “I feel like I just have to be able to adjust to different factors because the Olympics is just going to be a crazy situation. It’s a little different than every other tournament. This tournament is the biggest test of your mental skill, how you can handle pressure. It’s going to be pressure on the next level. 

“I think competing in multiple world championships these last couple years, I just gained a lot more experience competing in that situation when everything’s on the line.”

Beyond this year, Itkin also has his eyes on the 2028 Olympic Games taking place on familiar turf in Los Angeles. He would still be in his prime years when those Games are held.

“Another goal of mine is just to be able to compete in front of the home fans in my home city,” said Itkin, “and have every one of my close friends and family see everything I’ve been working for these past years, ever since I was a kid.”