Axelrod, Albert (Albie)
1952, 1956, 1960, 1964, 1968
Axelrod was one of the greatest American fencers in history and was a member of five consecutive U.S. Olympic foil teams (a 20-year span!). Nicknamed "Albie," his first appearance in the Olympics came at the 1952 Helsinki Games, when he competed in both the team and individual foil events. While the U.S. team reached the quarterfinals before being eliminated, Axelrod reached the semifinals in the individual foil, where he finished in fourth place in his pool (the first three finishers advanced to the finals).
Four years later at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Axelrod again competed in the individual and team events. In the indvidual foil, he won his preliminary pool with five wins, but finished seventh in his semifinal pool and was eliminated from the competition. In the team event, Axelrod helped the U.S. advance to the finals by defeating Australia in the first round and Great Britain in the second round. In the finals, the U.S. lost to France, 10-6 (Axelrod had two wins), Italy, 9-7 (Axelrod won three of his four matches), and Hungary, 9-5 (he had one win), and officially finished in fourth place. The entire U.S. foil team at the Games was Jewish and included Axelrod, Daniel Bukantz, Harold Goldsmith, Nathaniel Lubell, and Byron Krieger.
At the 1960 Rome Games, Axelrod again competed in the team foil and the U.S. finished in fifth place. In the individual foil competition, Axelrod had one of the greatest performances of any American fencer in Olympic history. After finishing in third place in his pool in both the first and second-rounds, he qualified for the finals after finishing second in his semifinal pool. In the finals, Axelrod surprised everyone by finishing in third place to win the bronze medal; it was only the fourth-ever Olympic fencing medal for the United States and the last of its kind until 1984. Axelrod was 39 years old when he captured his bronze medal, defeating men half his age.
Axelrod competed in two more Olympic Games, but did not win another medal. In 1964, he reached the fourth-round in the individual foil event, but lost a close match to eventual gold medalist Egon Franke, 10-9. In the team event, Axelrod and the U.S. defeated Romania and Argentina, but lost to France in the first-round. Axelrod's final Olympic appearance was at the 1968 Mexico City Games when the U.S. team again failed to finish in the top eight; he did not compete in the individual foil event.
Born in New York City, Axelrod starting fencing while at Stuyvesant high school in the mid-1930s. He said, "I was the proverbial 98-pound weakling. I had a weak heart, a micro-murmur, and my folks didn't want me to play any sports. Finally, I drifted into fencing. I guess it was seemingly innocuous enough to my parents."
Before becoming the top-ranked American fencer, Axelrod was the collegiate champion and led City College of New York to the national team foil championship in 1948. By the mid-1950s, Albert was one of the best fencers in the world and was ranked No. 1 in the United States in 1955, 1958, 1960, and 1970. His longevity at the top of the sport is unusual; Albert was 49 years old when he won his last national championship. He was the only men's foil fencer in U.S. history to make the finals of the world championships.
One thing that makes Axelrod's achievements so remarkable was that he was by profession an electrical engineer who fenced in his spare time! He often compared his aggressive technique to chess, rattling off mathematical terms to explain his style and strategy; yet to the unmathematical eye, Albie's style was a no-holds-barred display of a movie swashbuckler such as Zorro or Robin Hood. He was a man with lightning-fast reflexes who never retreated. As far as Axelrod was concerned, there was only one direction in fencing: forward. While his weapon, the foil, is the lightest of the three swords used in fencing competitions, in Axelrod's hand it became an unmovable object.
Over an amazing 28-year-span (1942-1970), he was ranked in the U.S. top ten, missing three years during World War II for military service (he served in the U.S. Navy). Albert won the gold medal in team foil at the 1959 and 1963 Pan American Games. He also won silver medals in the team and individual foil at the 1955 Pan American Games, and the individual foil at the 1959 and 1963 Pan Am Games. Besides competing in five Olympiads, Albert also competed in six Maccabiah Games, beginning in 1957. He is a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
Birth and Death Dates:
b. Feb. 21, 1921 - d. Feb. 24, 2004
New York City
Use links below to navigate through the olympics section of Jews In Sports.
Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, by Joseph Siegman (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 2000)
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
The Olympic Games: Athens 1896-Sydney 2000, (New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1999)
New York Times, July 21-August 2, 1952
New York Times, November 23-December 8, 1956
New York Times, August 27-September 9, 1960
New York Times, October 11-October 25, 1964