Rising stars trade swords at Alpharetta's Epic Fencing Club

Fencers say, if the average fan at home should know anything when tuning in to this upcoming Summer Olympics, it’s that fencing is like a physical chess match.

And tucked away here in Alpharetta is a chessboard for such athletes, at Epic Fencing Club – led by Dmitri Romankov – a historic figure in the fencing world, now head coach for SCAD Atlanta – and who is currently molding young talent at fencing summer camp.

"Around the Olympic Games, I talk with club owners around the country, and there's a lot of kids coming, because people say like, 'Mom, I want to be like Lee Kiefer!'" Romankov said.

Dmitri Romankov

And who’s Lee Kiefer? Only the sport’s biggest American star, after winning gold in the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.

But Team USA is one admired around the fencing world – just ask one of Romankov’s SCAD Atlanta fencers from Belarus.

"I think there's so many clubs in the U.S., in Georgia, in the Atlanta area – literally everywhere you go there's a fencing club," said Yana Andreyenka, a graduate student in SCAD Atlanta's fencing program. "People have heard of fencing, but they never knew how good the American team actually is."

So, how did this premier fencing program come to Alpharetta? SCAD Atlanta offered Romankov the job when he was an assistant coach at Ohio State. And that’s all it took.

Next, he cast an international net to bring in some of the world’s best junior talent.

"It was like going to space, to the moon, it's like super far (from home in Belarus)," Andreyenka said. "But even when I was back home, I was constantly watching the competitions of the American fencers. A lot of fencers that I've looked up to in my fencing journey are actually from the U.S., so it's been very exciting but also very challenging."

The challenge is part of the attraction too – like for Carolina Stutchbury, who’s 18 years old now, but moved here at 11 and has been training with Romankov since – and as the Current Junior World  No. 1 is a rising star for her native Great Britain – coming off a bronze medal performance at the Senior European Championships.

"Last year, when I was training for the world championships and my EPIC Fencing teammates weren't really allowed to go, they still came to help me train for the tournament," Stutchbury said. "I did really well, and that wouldn't have been without them. So very honored to be part of this club."

And while the country names on their backs may differ, Epic Fencing Club is where they sharpen and perfect those chess moves together.