Dec. 2, 2014
Janusz Bednarski (YAN-oosh bed-NAR-skee), head coach of the highly successful University of Notre Dame men’s and women’s fencing programs the last dozen years, has announced his retirement—and eight-year Irish assistant coach Guiorgie "Gia" Kvaratskhelia (GEE-uh KLAW-duh-SKELL-ee-uh) will become the new Notre Dame head coach.
Highlights of Bednarski’s tenure include the 2003, 2005 and 2011 NCAA men’s and women’s combined championships. Regarded as one of the top foil coaches in the nation, Kvaratskhelia served as Notre Dame’s associate head fencing coach the last three years after five previous seasons as an assistant coach.
“I would like to thank Janusz for all he has done for fencing at Notre Dame,” said Notre Dame vice president and athletics director Jack Swarbrick. “He inherited a program with an outstanding heritage, and three national titles in 12 years would suggest he added to it impressively. At the same time, we are excited to promote Gia to the head coaching position. His achievements in his time on staff are noteworthy, and he has earned the opportunity to take charge of the program at this time.”
Since joining the Irish staff in 2007, Notre Dame's foilists have enjoyed tremendous success with Kvaratskhelia at the helm. The Irish have qualified the maximum of four foilists each year for NCAA Championship competition, with 29 of those 32 appearances resulting in All-America honors. Notre Dame's foil squads have enjoyed the most success of any weapons class recently, boasting five NCAA individual champions since 2010--Lee Kiefer in 2014 and 2013, Gerek Meinhardt in 2014 and 2010 and Ariel DeSmet in 2011. Kvaratskhelia was tabbed as the 2013 Midwest Fencing Conference Varsity Coach of the Year and the 2010-11 U.S. Fencing National Coach of the Year.
“Notre Dame fencing has been as successful as any collegiate program in the country over the last 50 years, and it’s an honor to be chosen to carry on that tradition,” said Kvaratskhelia.
Bednarski retires as one of the winningest head coaches in Notre Dame athletics history. His 623 combined victories (315 with the Irish women’s team, 308 with the men) trail only former fencing coach Mike DeCicco (680 wins) and current Irish women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw (663 wins heading into the 2014-15 season) on Notre Dame’s list of all-time coaching wins.
“I have enjoyed tremendously the opportunity to lead Notre Dame fencing these past 12 years,” said Bednarski. “We’ve won championships, we’ve produced All-Americans and Olympians and we’ve had the chance to work with individuals who are among the very best in the world. I thank all those at the University who have helped make this success a reality.
“I am pleased that Gia Kvaratskhelia has the next opportunity to lead the Notre Dame program. He knows fencing, he knows Notre Dame and I know he is excited for this challenge ahead.”
Prior to joining the Notre Dame coaching staff, Kvaratskhelia spent 10 years as coach of the Kanza Fencing Club in Salina, Kansas. In that time, Kvaratskhelia transformed Kanza from a small recreational club into one of the nation's top foil centers. His fencers at Kanza combined to win three USFA national men's open foil team championships, with six of his Kanza fencers going on to compete at the Division I level as scholarship athletes. His Kanza fencers combined to be national finalists 15 times, while receiving nearly 50 national medals. Kvaratskhelia, who became a U.S. citizen in 2004, developed an elite four-fencer team of youth men's foilists at Kanza, with that group winning USFA national titles in the open category in 2001, 2002 and 2004.
Kvaratskhelia first ventured into coaching in 1994, assisting Vladimir Nazlymov (now head coach at Ohio State) at Central Fencing Club in Kansas City and at the satellite Lawrence (Kansas) Fencing Club. Two years later, he accepted the challenge in Salina and spent 10 years building Kanza into a nationally recognized club.
Kvaratskhelia grew up in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia and began fencing in 1988 at age 13. He was a member of the Georgian National Foil Team from 1990-94, took home the bronze medal at the 1990 Soviet Junior National Championship and later had an impressive 11th-place finish at the 1992 European Championship.
Kvaratskhelia is fluent in Russian, Georgian and English. He received his bachelor's degree in physical education and sport in 1993 from the Georgian State Physical Training Institute in his hometown of Tbilisi. He also earned a sports journalism certificate from that institution in 1992 and pursued graduate studies in journalism at Tbilisi State University in 1993 prior to coming to the United States.
Kvaratskhelia and his wife, Dani Edson, have one daughter, Maya, and one son, Alexander.
Bednarski was named the sixth head coach in program history in May 2002 after having previously worked with the Irish as an assistant coach for eight seasons. A specialist in sabre, Bednarski has seen his squads post a 623-62 overall record (.909 winning percentage) in 12 seasons, with the men and women posting nearly identical marks (the men are 308-34, the women 315-28).
In addition to the three NCAA titles, Bednarski also coached his Irish teams to NCAA team runners-up honors on three occasions (2008, 2009 and 2013), as well as three NCAA third-place slots (2004, 2010 and 2012). When the Irish claimed the 2003 and 2005 NCAA crowns Bednarski became the first Notre Dame head coach in any sport to see his teams win multiple national titles in fewer than five seasons. In 2011 he joined the ranks of three other Irish head coaches to have claimed at least three national titles during their reigns (Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy in football and DeCicco). In 2011 Bednarski was tabbed as the United States Fencing Coaches Association NCAA Coach of the Year.
Among the most visible of Bednarski’s pupils have been United States Olympians Mariel Zagunis and Meinhardt. Zagunis dominated her college sabre bouts with the Irish as a freshman, going 29-1 in the regular season and advancing to the 2005 NCAA final match, before clinching the weapon title in 2006. Zagunis competed for the United States in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympic Games, bringing home two gold medals from Beijing. Meinhardt won individual NCAA titles in foil in 2010 and 2014 and rose to the number-one foil ranking in the world in 2014. He also competed in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.
Over his 12 seasons, Bednarski’s teams produced 109 All-Americans, including 46 first-team honorees (29 women, 17 men). During those dozen years the Irish had 14 NCAA individual event champions—four in women’s foil, three each in men’s foil, women’s epee and women’s sabre and one in men’s epee.
Bednarski previously served as head coach of Poland's Olympic Team from 1978-88, with team-members winning 11 medals between Olympic Games and World Championship competitions during that era. After moving to the United States in 1988, Bednarski served as head coach at Denver's CFS Fencing Club from 1989-94. He served from 1994-2002 as head coach of the Escrime du Lac Fencing Club in Mishawaka (also known as the Indiana Fencing Academy) and has been a member of many advisory panels for the U.S. Fencing Association, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the U.S. Fencing Coaches Association.
Bednarski received his master's degree in business in 1970 from Warsaw's prestigious SGPiS Business College, where he worked as a lecturer in economics. He obtained his coaching diploma from the Academy of Physical Education in 1978. He and his wife, Izabella, have two sons: Michael and Andrzej. Andrzej is a three-time sabre All-American and 2002 graduate of Notre Dame who also served as an intern assistant coach on his father's staff during the 2005 and 2006 seasons.