Iris Zimmermann – Breaking the Glass Ceiling

Iris Zimmerman 1995 Photo by Carl Borack

Iris Zimmermann became the first US fencer to win gold at a world championship in 1995. Photo: 1995. Carl Borack

Iris Zimmermann holds the distinction of being the first U.S. fencer in history to win a world championship in any weapon or any age category.  She earned this distinction in 1995, winning the World Under-17 Championships at her first major international event.   Four years later Iris would become the first US fencer to medal in the Senior World Championships, earning the bronze medal in women’s foil.

She and her sister Felicia formed a great fencing duo.  In that same year Felicia was the number one ranked Women’s Foil Fencer in FIE Junior World Cup Points.

Today US fencing fans take medals at the Cadet and Junior World Championships as a given.  We now don’t hope for a medal, but expect them and want to count up how many golds the US team takes in comparison to the traditional powers such as Italy, France, Germany, etc.

The efforts of fencers like Iris Zimmermann and others in her generation of US team members set the bar higher for future US teams.  In only 15 years the US fencing community has moved from being in awe of European fencing to looking at how the US matches up in every weapon.

Iris is still involved in fencing as the co-owner of the Rochester Fencing Center, where she began her fencing career, working to inspire and teach a new generation of fencers.

Andy Shaw (who runs the Museum of American Fencing) conducted an interview with Iris at the 2010 USA Fencing National Championships:

Other media mentions for Iris:

Sports Illustrated: Faces in the Crowd 9/11/95

Sources: Carl Borack, Sports Illustrated, Museum of American Fencing/Andy Shaw

Iris Zimmermann - Breaking the Glass Ceiling by

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8 Responses to “Iris Zimmermann – Breaking the Glass Ceiling”
  1. Wendell Kubik says:

    Thanks Iris and Andy. This is very motivating for youth fencers….especially those with sisters and brothers in fencing. I think the two most important points….”I saw my sister do it so I thought I could do it” and the fact that as a child she “loved fencing”.

    This interview made my day….this is the best interview I’ve ever seen with a World Champion. Note to parents…this is the way to do it. This made my day.

  2. Wendell Kubik says:

    Thanks Iris and Andy. This is very motivating for youth fencers….especially those with sisters and brothers in fencing. I think the two most important points….”I saw my sister do it so I thought I could do it” and the fact that as a child she “loved fencing”.

    This interview made my day….this is the best interview I’ve ever seen with a World Champion. Note to parents…this is the way to do it. This made my day.

  3. Charles Whitworth says:

    Thanks for this Craig. I haven’t managed to run the interview yet (will sort it out), but am delighted to have news of Iris Zimmermann. Though I’ve done most of my (very modest level) fencing in the UK and France (did have a few lessons with a former French foil champion), I follow the results of US fencers avidly. I remember Iris’s exploits very well. It has been thrilling in recent years to see American guys and girls competing at the highest level in all weapons. I remember when it was unheard of. France is a wonderful place to be if one loves fencing, all sorts of competitions are shown on TV, with expert commentary (by Philippe Boisse, for example). And where else would a double Olympic sabre champion become a government minister? But the old patriotic tingle still comes when Americans do well. Long may it continue!

  4. Charles Whitworth says:

    Thanks for this Craig. I haven’t managed to run the interview yet (will sort it out), but am delighted to have news of Iris Zimmermann. Though I’ve done most of my (very modest level) fencing in the UK and France (did have a few lessons with a former French foil champion), I follow the results of US fencers avidly. I remember Iris’s exploits very well. It has been thrilling in recent years to see American guys and girls competing at the highest level in all weapons. I remember when it was unheard of. France is a wonderful place to be if one loves fencing, all sorts of competitions are shown on TV, with expert commentary (by Philippe Boisse, for example). And where else would a double Olympic sabre champion become a government minister? But the old patriotic tingle still comes when Americans do well. Long may it continue!

  5. Charles Whitworth says:

    PS. Thanks Iris and Andy, and Craig. Got the video to work. Wonderful! And what a splendid role model she is for current and future young fencers. Just get that message out there to parents, coaches and kids: there is high-quality sporting experience, other than football, baseball, basketball, soccer and skateboarding!! I’ve always regretted that we were not as competitive in fencing as we are in so many other sports. It’s happening now, thanks to people like Iris and many others.

  6. Charles Whitworth says:

    PS. Thanks Iris and Andy, and Craig. Got the video to work. Wonderful! And what a splendid role model she is for current and future young fencers. Just get that message out there to parents, coaches and kids: there is high-quality sporting experience, other than football, baseball, basketball, soccer and skateboarding!! I’ve always regretted that we were not as competitive in fencing as we are in so many other sports. It’s happening now, thanks to people like Iris and many others.

  7. Eric Rosenberg says:

    Unfortunately, US Fencing has a limited short term memory, and the accomplishments of Iris and her sister have faded from that collective consciousness. In truth, our sport history has its own temporal demarcation point; BI (before Iris) and AI (after Iris). My generation of fencers never believed it was possible for Americans to be truly competitive let alone win on an international level; that is, until Iris came along. She opened the door for everyone who came after, and shook US fencers and coaches out of their defeatist complacency. After Iris, no one could ever say it couldn’t be done. Iris Zimmerman did it.

  8. Eric Rosenberg says:

    Unfortunately, US Fencing has a limited short term memory, and the accomplishments of Iris and her sister have faded from that collective consciousness. In truth, our sport history has its own temporal demarcation point; BI (before Iris) and AI (after Iris). My generation of fencers never believed it was possible for Americans to be truly competitive let alone win on an international level; that is, until Iris came along. She opened the door for everyone who came after, and shook US fencers and coaches out of their defeatist complacency. After Iris, no one could ever say it couldn’t be done. Iris Zimmerman did it.

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