Thirty-two years of excellence, NCAA championships, Ivy League championships, multiple NCAA individual champions and a few Olympian fencers have all been a part of the Columbia fencing landscape for more than a generation.
The “landscape designer” who has done the most to further fencing’s fortunes at Columbia in the past 32 years is George Kolombatovich. Now in his 33rd year at Columbia, his 32nd as a head coach, Kolombatovich continues to help Columbia remain one of the leading fencing programs in the nation.
Nicole Ross became the fourth Columbia fencer in six years to win an NCAA Championship, when she took home the top prize in women's foil at the 2010 NCAA Championships, where Columbia finished seventh overall.
In 2009, Columbia finished fourth at the NCAA Championships, the third straight year that Columbia placed fourth or higher. Both Kurt Getz and Daria Schneider repeated as first team All-Americans at the 2009 NCAA Championships.
During the 2007-08 season, Kolombatovich saw the Lions win their eighth Ivy League men’s title in the previous nine years, their second straight women’s title, their first IFA Championship since the 2003-04 season, and go on to take the third-place trophy at the NCAA Championships in Columbus, Ohio.
That exalted area is nothing new for Kolombatovich teams. Fewer than 10 years after he came to Columbia, in 1987, the Lions earned their first NCAA men’s title in sixteen years, and followed that with championships in 1988 and 1989. They finished second in 1990 and 1991, after the championships were combined, but brought NCAA first-place trophies back to Alma Mater in both 1992 and 1993. The Lions have captured eight IFA Championships, ten Northeast Regional crowns, 13 Ivy League men’s championships, and five Ivy League women’s championships since Kolombatovich arrived.
A native New Yorker, he attended New York University and coached there before joining Columbia in 1978 as an assistant to Lou Bankuti. He succeeded Bankuti as head coach in 1979 and was named Director of Fencing in 1983. Kolombatovich revitalized the struggling Lions of the late 1970’s, leading them to the Ivy Championships, the IFA Championships, and NCAA trophies. His students have been national champions, in the Olympics, and on many US National Teams.
A well-known figure in national and international fencing, Kolombatovich has coached the United States team in six Junior World Championships. He has served as Chief of Mission and Coach of the US teams in seven Junior Pan American championships.
Kolombatovich was the Chief of Mission and Team Captain of the USA Team to the 1998 and 1999 Junior/Cadet World Championships and the 1998 and 1999 Senior World Championships. He served as USA Chief of Mission and Team Captain at the 1999 World University Games in Mallorca, Spain, and at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Canada. His unmatched knowledge of the rules makes him an excellent team captain. Well known throughout the coaching world, he may possess even greater stature as a referee, both in the United States and internationally.
A Fédération Internationale d’Escrime (FIE) A-rated referee, Kolombatovich was elected by the FIE Congress in December 2000, for a four-year term to the extremely important and powerful Commission d’Arbitrage, the Referee Commission. This is the group that selects all referees for the World Championships and is also responsible for assigning them at the Championships. Kolombatovich is the first native-born US resident to be on this Commission.
He was reelected in 2004 to head the commission, the first non-European person to hold that post. Kolombatovich is the author of the FIE’s first written test for referees and works with referee development and testing both internationally and nationally. He is also a member, since 1980, of the United States Fencing Association’s (USFA) Fencing Officials Commission.
The USFA has published his Handbook for Referees, which is an instructional manual. He has been the chief assignor of referees for the USFA National Championships for many years. He was a referee at the 1989, 1991, and 1995 Pan American Games, and was also a referee at the 1989, 1994, and 1995 World Championships. He officiated at the 1991 and 1993 World University Games and numerous Junior and Cadet World Championships and World Cups. George is one of a very small group to have refereed in all three weapons in the finals of World Championships.
Kolombatovich was selected as a referee for the 1984, 1992, and 1996 Olympic Games. At the Olympics in 1996, he refereed in three finals, including two bouts for gold medals. He has also been a delegate of the FIE’s Commission d’Arbitrage, assigning referees at the 2001 and 2003 Senior World Championships in Nîmes, France, and La Habana, Cuba, respectively, as well as at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. Kolombatovich is also a nationally and internationally known official in Wheelchair Fencing; he was a member of the Bout Committees and assignor of referees for three Paralympic Games.
When not occupied with collegiate, national, and international fencing, Kolombatovich has earned an excellent reputation as a combat choreographer, staging fights and training performers in weapon use for several opera companies, primarily the Metropolitan Opera, and he has prepared actors for film. A fine fencer in his own right, Kolombatovich is a former National Masters Champion. He and his wife, Etta, an executive assistant with Riverstone Holdings, reside just a block from the Columbia campus, in the home where they raised their four children. Etta is an official “Columbian,” graduating from the School of General Studies in 1998 with a B.A. in art history.
Among their four children, Gail is a 1990 graduate of Mount Saint Mary College. She and her husband, Ed, and their two sons, Mike and Peter, reside in Wenonah, New Jersey. Erika, a 1990 Columbia College graduate, is the Director of the Cole Pratt Art Gallery in New Orleans, where she resides with her husband, Jude.
George graduated from Columbia College in 1993 and Columbia Law in 1998. Glenn is a 1994 Columbia College graduate and a 1999 graduate of the Columbia Business School. He and his wife, Annette, live in Queens with their two daughters, Kate and Diana.