inducted February 18, 2006
With fencing strips and scoring equipment scattered all over Columbia’s gym floor, there never are many places for spectators to sit during a Lion fencing match. And so it was at a match against Harvard some 20 years ago, while grabbing a seat near the Harvard team, one overheard a brief conversation between two Crimson women’s fencers.
One had just gone down to defeat to a Columbia fencer, five touches to none. She took a seat, and turning to a teammate, said, “Wow! What was that? I don't think I ever saw her blade on any of those touches.”
“That was Katy Bilodeau,” her teammate said. “You know, the national champion. “
“THAT was Katy Bilodeau?” the first fencer asked. “I didn’t think she was that quick. I didn’t think ANYBODY was.” She paused for a moment. “Do you think she’d mind,” she said softly, “if I asked for her autograph?”
We ALL should have asked for her autograph, for in Caitlin “Katy” Bilodeaux (she has dropped the “x” from her last name) we were privileged to see one of the nation’s finest athletes in the latter part of the 20th century.
Katy came out of Concord-Carlisle High School in Massachusetts as a heralded athlete, a high school All-American in lacrosse and all-state player in soccer. But she was recruited for fencing, and she didn’t disappoint. She was a four-time All-American, four-time Northeast Regional champion, and four- time All-Ivy League selection. In both 1985 and 1987, she won the NCAA women’s foil titles, becoming the first woman ever to capture two NCAA fencing crowns.
On a national level, she was a four-time national champion, preceded by four years as the Junior Olympic national champion. She was a four-time Eastern Collegiate champion and a two-time medalist in the Pan American Games, including a gold medal in 1987. She was the top-ranked women’s foil fencer in the United States from 1985 to 1992!
She competed in two Olympic Games (1988, 1992) and two World University Games (1985 - sixth place and 1987). The U.S. Olympic Committee chose her as the Outstanding Fencer of the Year three times. The Women’s Sports Foundation named her its Up and Coming Athlete of the Year and she was named the NCAA Athlete of the Decade for the ‘80s (fencing).
In 1987, she was the first recipient of Columbia’s Distinguished Achievement Award in Athletics, followed the next year by Columbia College’s John Jay Award for Distinguished Achievement.
Her alma mater further honored her in 1991 as the Columbia University Athlete of the Decade for Fencing and in 1999 as the Athlete of the Twentieth Century, also for fencing. That year she made the Ivy League’s Silver Anniversary Team. In 2002, she was inducted into the United States Fencing Association Hall of Fame.
Her arrival at Columbia came one year after the Lions’ long-time coach, Dr. Aladar Kogler, came to Morningside Heights. Asked her fondest memory of her years at Columbia, she answers without hesitation, “Having Aladar Kogler as my coach. He has a great ability to motivate, inspire [and] encourage hard work, all while having fun at the same time!”Today, Katy Bilodeau lives in the Montreal suburb of Point Claire with her husband, former Canadian Olympic fencer Jean Banos, and their two children. She has worked in an executive position for the Swedish furniture company Ikea.