MARCH 16, 2015
By Jerry Del Priore
Romain Cannone lives anything but a normal teenage existence. His life revolves around school and fencing, with not much time for anything else.
But Cannone’s hard work and sacrifice paid tremendous dividends when he helped the French National Junior Team beat Hungary for the men’s epee gold medal at the European Championships in Maribor, Slovenia, earlier this month.
“When I got to school that day, people were congratulating me,” says Cannone, 17, noting that friends and family members watched the competition via live stream. “It felt very, very good.”
Cannone, who finshed 17th in individuals, took up the sport at a camp six years ago when his cousin Zoey urged him to give foil fencing a try. He switched to epee – a stiffer, heavier sword – at the recommendation of his mentor, fencing coach Misha Mokretsov, who has trained numerous nationally recognized fencers through his company New York Fencing Academy (NYFA), located at 2896 West 12th Street in Coney Island.
Mokretsov wasn’t an established coach when he first met Cannone in 2010. In fact, Cannone was among his first generation of students. But as Cannone developed, so did his teacher, who recognized the ability in his budding pupil from the outset.
“He right away showed talent in footwork, and he was creative,” said Mokretsov, a former Ukrainian silver medalist who founded NYFA in 2010. “He wasn’t super athletic at first, but he had the feeling of distance and timing, meaning he knew when someone was in range to attack.”
As one of Mokretzov’s star pupils, Cannone has competed at fencing events all over the country and world – which pulls him away from his studies for weeks at a time. When he arrives home, it’s business as usual, and he works feverishly to make up all the school work he’s missed.
But the young fencer doesn’t mind the sacrifice.
Cannone trains in fencing and overall fitness twice a week in Westchester – where he lives and attends school – and spends spends Fridays and Saturdays in Coney Island, taking private lessons with Mokretsov.
“It’s always a challenge, especially my trips. I just have to warn my teachers a week ahead of time,” the French native explained. “I don’t have a lot of time for slacking off. Some people might say it’s too much, but for me, it’s worth it.”
He has a point considering there are not many adolescents that can say they have visited places such as Virginia, Switzerland, Bratislava, Slovakia, and Estonia, let alone compete on the national and international stage in any sport.
In January, Cannone captured the bronze medal at the Basel Junior World Cup in Switzerland, earning himself the #1 ranking in France’s men’s epee, under-20 category. Last year, he also won the gold at the Cadet World Cup in Slovakia, and ended the season ranked third in the world.
“The winning, the experience, the traveling — I would never get to do that and meet all these people,” he said. “It’s been pretty interesting.”
As for his success, Cannone and his mother Cecile attribute a great deal of it to NYFA and his coach and friend Mokretsov.
“[Mokretsov] is a very dedicated person, loves his passion and knows how to transmit it to his students,” Cecile Cannone said. “But they are actually more than student-teacher to each other; it is a very deep friendship, and he gives great advise to Romain in many aspects of his life.”
What’s next for Cannone? The rising fencer is currently in his last international competition of the season, where he will be competing in the World Championship team event in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on April 1. Next year, he plans on attending Sacred Heart University in Connecticut on a partial fencing scholarship to study business.
[Additional reporting by Rachel Silberstein.]