A fencing athlete for the last three years, Kondev laughs when recalling a familiar line when people watch her compete for the first time.
“Most people think ‘Oh my gosh, it’s a sword. You’re gonna hurt someone,’” said Kondev, a middle school student who has been at Alcuin since the first grade. “The sword is not actually sharp and you wear so much equipment that it doesn’t even hurt.”
But fencing still isn’t for the faint of heart. She is often matched against older opponents who are trained in Russian saber fencing, which places an emphasis on strength and blocking. Kondev’s preference is Korean saber fencing, which requires speed and flexibility.
“If you have a lot of energy and you’re fast, then you can put it all out there and do a lot of really good stuff,” said Kondev, who is currently under the tutelage of former South Korean national fencing team coach Hyo kun Lee. “You have to be tough because they can hit you.”
According to USA Fencing, there are 8,892 competitive fencers between the ages of 13-22 in the United States. In Kondev’s 13-14 age group, there are more than 2,500 competitors nationwide; 955 of them are female.
Kondev’s mother, Vasillka, said while Elizabeth only has three years of fencing under her belt, she is improving at a rapid pace. Six months after Lee began coaching Elizabeth, she competed in her first tournament and won first place. In October 2021, Elizabeth competed at the North American Cup in St. Louis and medaled in 5th place for her age group. It was her 11th competition overall and her third national tournament.
Now, Vassilka said, Elizabeth has her sights set on a higher national ranking and a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s fencing program.
“My husband and I are very proud of her,” said Vassilka, who moved from her native Bulgaria to the United States with her husband in 2008. “She has the drive to get better, she has the passion and she’s laser-focused on her goal so we’ll see what happens.”