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Unfunded Fencers Make Sacrifices for Olympic Games

June 14, 1996

CINCINNATI (AP) _ Money is tight. Medical school is on hold. But for Tamir Bloom, 1996 is a year of dreams.

``I gave up some liberty to live at home,″ said Bloom, 24, who moved back with his parents in Millburn, N.J., after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania and then working part time as a molecular biology researcher.

``You have to do what you have to do, if you have a dream.″

Bloom is driven by two goals _ to become a doctor and to be an Olympic champion. For the past year, he’s devoted full time to fencing, which meant no income. In July, he’ll compete with the U.S. Olympic team in Atlanta, and in the fall he plans to start medical school.

``My dad is an artist and a high school teacher, so you can see there’s not a lot of money,″ Bloom said. ``There’s been some fund-raising in my hometown _ largely by my mom _ things like selling T-shirts and holding fencing clinics.″

The children of Millburn held read-a-thons and went door-to-door on penny ``harvests″ to help the cause.

``The bank freaked out when the kids dragged in 100,000 pennies,″ said Bloom’s dad, Murray, who designed the T-shirts hawked by his wife, Maya. ``Money dribbles in little by little.″

Tamir Bloom started fencing in the ninth grade. Within a year, he placed third in a New Jersey middle school meet. He was the under-20 epee champion in the Junior Olympics in 1989, and a two-time NCAA All-American at Penn.

``Tamir is as good as anyone in the world on any given day,″ said his father. ``But without his mother, he wouldn’t have gone this far because he would not have had the money.″

Murray Bloom likes to point out that the Italian fencing team has a budget of $6 million the year, compared with the $440,000 allotted by the United States Fencing Association.

``It’s really a shoddy operation for the world’s richest country. But it’s understandable because it’s really a European sport,″ Murray Bloom said.

The Bloom family holds dual citizenship in the United States and Israel, and Murray Bloom is proud that his son is the first American-Israeli to compete on the U.S. fencing team. He doesn’t mind that medical school has been put off.

``You have a young man who’s chasing a dream. How many of us have this opportunity?″ said Murray Bloom. ``If he’s a doctor three years later, what’s that matter?″

Bloom would have liked to go into the Olympics as the U.S. champion in epee, one of the three weapons used in competition. But he lost his semifinal match Wednesday at the national championships in Cincinnati.

Conversely, Ben Atkins, 24, of New York City, won the title but didn’t make the Olympic team. Atkins broke his hand in competition in January, missed several meets and failed to amass enough points for one of the three spots on the team.

``I feel that right this minute I am the best epee fencer in the country,″ Atkins said. ``But we know going in what the process is ... It’s a fair system. I’m very disappointed, but I also feel that those guys earned their spots and I wish them the best of luck.″

Atkins, an NCAA champion in foil (1991) and epee (1993) and national titlist in epee in 1993, is another Penn grad who suspended his studies in hopes of making the Olympic team.

``I took the last year and a half off from (Columbia) law school and put my life on hold. The intention was, obviously, to go to Atlanta,″ Atkins said.

``I had some setbacks but I felt like if I won the nationals, I at least could end the season on an upbeat note. Four years from now, I’ll go for the gold in Sydney.″

Selection to the Olympic team is based on points accumulated during yearlong competition at several events. The final two spots on the 15-member team were not determined until the Cincinnati championships.

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