Zimmerman Sisters


Zimmerman Sisters Essay, Research Paper

Felicia and Iris Zimmermann

One family, two Olympians

Felicia Zimmermann and younger sister Iris will represented two-thirds of the

U.S. women’s foil team at the Sydney Games. Iris, six years Felicia’s junior, won

bronze in the individual foil at the 1999 World Championships. Felicia hasn’t achieved on

that scale, but she is far more experienced. At 16, she was an alternate to the America

squad that competed at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics; at the Atlanta Games, she placed

21st in the individual competition and 10th with the U.S. team. Felicia won her third

individual national title in 1999 and with Iris helped the American team place seventh at

that year’s World Championships, securing an Olympic spot for the U.S. in the women’s

team foil event. Felicia has competed at seven senior nationals, finishing lower than

fourth only once (14th in 1990). A five-time World Championships participant, she was a

member of the American team that placed fifth in 1997.

Felicia and Iris are students at Stanford University, but took time away from their

studies to prepare for the Sydney Games. Of the two sisters, Felicia is smaller, and her

fencing is more tactical and finesse-oriented. She won many of the early bouts between

the two, including one at the 1996 U.S. nationals, but Iris has begun to win more

frequently in the last year. Felicia and Iris have difficulty competing repeatedly against

each other, and their parents, Christina and Thomas, wish their daughters had chosen

different weapons. Christina is of Chinese decent; Thomas is from Germany. They met

when Christina was working as a registered nurse in Germany and they later settled in

New York. Felicia is fluent in Chinese and German, both of which are spoken at home.

Her non-fencing interests include playing the piano, which she has done for over a


As an Olympic hopeful, Felicia Zimmermann had received a huge amount of

media coverage, from appearing on television talk shows to being part of a photo spread

in Vogue magazine’s May 2000 issue. For most of her career, though, she has gained

little attention for her success. She began fencing at age 8 and has been competing

internationally since she was 13. After graduating from high school in Rochester in 1993,

she spent a year training in Germany and competing in tournaments throughout Europe.

That experience was of great importance to her career.

Iris Zimmermann has a lengthy list of unprecedented feats, beginning with her

victory at the under-17 World Championships in 1995, when she became the only

American ever to win a world title at either the junior or senior level. Fourteen years old

at the time, Iris is believed to be the youngest world champion; she also captured the

under-17 world title in 1997. Competing at the senior level at the 1999 worlds, she won

bronze, making her the only American fencer to win a medal in an Olympic event at

World Championships. Iris won four consecutive matches to open the tournament before

falling in the semifinals to 1996 Olympic silver medallist Valentina Vezzali of Italy. Also

at the 1999 worlds, Iris helped the U.S. women’s foil team place seventh, a result that

gave America an Olympic spot in that event.

While the two sisters fence with the same weapon, they do have different styles.

The smaller of the two, Felicia is more tactical and finesse-oriented. Iris, who is two

inches taller and 40 pounds heavier, fences more aggressively. Their coach, Buckie

Leach, says that Felicia is more businesslike and Iris is more animated and emotional.

Only two Americans have ever earned the title of junior World Cup champion, given to

the fencer ranked number one at the end of the junior World Cup season: Felicia (1995)

and Iris (1997). Iris, however, has accomplished a few things her sister has not: In May

2000, she added the under-20 world title to her pair of under-17 world championships.

No other American has won a world title at either the junior or senior level; Iris now has


In 1997, Iris won the senior national title in foil at the age of 17, becoming the

youngest ever female U.S. national champion. That year, she also competed at her first

senior World Championships, placing 40th in the individual event and helping the team

finish fifth. She missed all of 1998 after suffering a slight tear in the meniscus of her left

knee in February. She had orthroscopic surgery in March, but then tore the meniscus

again in August, requiring another operation.

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