One of the early greats in Columbia’s storied fencing history, Stephen Sobel was a dominant swordsman in the 1950s, an equally accomplished lawyer and a passionate advocate for fencing on the national stage.
A three-time All-American, Sobel was an NCAA champion in men’s sabre in 1954, when he helped Columbia to a team NCAA Championship that year.
Having made first team All-America in 1952 and 1953, Sobel’s 1954 season coincided with his first year of law school, under Columbia’s professional option program at the time.
On the Friday he was slated to fence in the NCAA Championships, Sobel had a moot court appearance scheduled. Granted a postponement by the judge, Sobel went on to win the gold medal, the first Columbian ever to capture the NCAA title in men’s sabre. The next Monday, Sobel arrived in the moot court and was greeted by the judges with a resounding standing ovation.
Many people would give Stephen Sobel a standing ovation for his accomplishments throughout his career.
A 1956 graduate of Columbia Law School, Sobel was first lieutenant in the United States Air Force Judge Advocate General Department. He would later spend several years after as an attorney at New York’s Hays, Sklar and Herzberg law firm.
He was president of the United States Fencing Association in the 1970s, when he led the charge to allow women to compete in sabre in the Olympic Games. Thirty-six years later in Beijing, the United States women swept the sabre weapon, earning all three medals in women’s sabre at the 2008 Olympics.
Sobel was heavily involved with the United States Olympic Committee in the 1980s and played a key role in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Sobel also spearheaded the 10th Pan American Games in Indianapolis in 1987, when he served as chief of mission.
During all of his national responsibilities surrounding the sport of fencing, Sobel has consistently remained close to the Columbia program. He is a devoted member of the Columbia Alumni Fencing Committee and a member of the Alumni Representative Committee, which interviews high school seniors during the application process to Columbia College.