Home News “It Was More Than A ...

“It Was More Than A Hobby; It Was In His DNA”: Fencing Loses Legend Jack Keane

By Craig Bohnert | April 28, 2016, 1:07 p.m. (ET)

Jack Keane was a member of the 1968 and 1972 U.S. Olympic teams.

Anthony John “Jack” Keane, a two-time Olympic fencer and a member of the USA Fencing Hall of Fame, passed away on Sunday, April 17, 2016.

Keane first began competitive fencing in 1957, at the age of 29. His progression was rapid, and he advanced to the national final in foil in 1958. He switched to saber four years later and earned his first Olympic berth in saber in 1968, the same year he won the national title in the event. He also was a member of the Munich 1972 Olympic team.

“He was blessed to have Csaba Elthes as a coach,” said his son, A.J., who lives in the Atlanta area and is a television director for The Weather Channel. “(Elthes) defected from Hungary in 1956 and somehow ended up at the New York Athletic Club. He coached many national champions in his time.”

A 1952 graduate of New York University, advertising executive and first-generation Irish-American Keane won two gold medals (individual and team saber) at the Winnipeg 1967 Pan American Games. He added a silver in team saber at the 1971 Pan Ams in Cali, Colombia, where he placed fifth individually.

Remaining active in the sport, he served as U.S. fencing team captain for three Olympic teams (1976, 1980, 1984) and was a referee, earning USA Referee Emeritus distinction in 1999.

“When he ended his competitive career, he went into the management end of fencing,” A.J. recalled. “He and Csaba Elthes tried to develop a standard teaching method for saber, so he always loved the sport. It was more than a hobby; it was in his DNA.”

A member of the New York Athletic Club, Keane organized and staged the Martini and Rossi Invitational. One of the most prestigious international fencing tournaments in the country, its field included the world’s top fencers.

“The idea was that they would bring over these world-class, top-notch European fencers, Eastern Bloc fencers – the Hungarians, the Polish,” said A.J. “The grand picture was that these international world-class fencers would come to the United States and fence against the Americans. He was able to create this, and it became quite an annual event. There was always a grand party on Sunday night at the New York Athletic Club. I remember he was the ringmaster, the master of ceremonies, because he was the head of fencing for the club.”

Keane was preceded in death by his wife, Beatrice, and a son, Sean. He is survived by his brother, Robert, and his wife, RoseAnn; daughter Marianne Cohen and her husband, Lou; son Brian and his wife, Mary Ellen, and son A.J. and his wife, Rebecca; as well as six grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.