For Michael Gostigian and Sharon Monplaisir, the Olympics have always been a beacon of strength, perseverance, competition—and true love. The married Upper West Siders are both former Olympians, and they credit the Games for bringing them together almost 20 years ago.
Gostigian competed in the pentathlon, an Olympic event in its 100th year this summer that includes swimming, cross-country running, pistol shooting, fencing and show jumping. He had trained as a swimmer as a teenager in the Philadelphia area and caught the eye of millionaire John Dupont, who was putting together a pentathon team. He learned to shoot and run on Dupont’s estate, then trained with an 80-year-old Hungarian fencing master. Gostigian competed in fencing tournaments while training for the pentathlon, which is how he first encountered the woman he would marry.
“We would cross paths at various fencing tournaments around the world,” Gostigian, 49, remembers. “In the ’92 Olympics, we were there together. She came and watched me compete all the time. One of her teammates had a crush on one of my teammates; she was dragging her to all the events.”
Monplaisir had risen through the ranks of women’s fencing after taking up the sport in high school. Raised in New York City, she looked to fencing as a way to guarantee a college education and a better way of life for herself.
“I tried all the sports,” said Monplaisir, 51. “I couldn’t swim, I couldn’t jump hurdles; they didn’t have baseball for girls back then. Fencing was the last one to try and I ended up being good at it.”
She practiced every chance she got and joined the New York Fencers Club, which gave her a scholarship. By 1984, she had made the Olympic team and competed in Los Angeles. She went on to compete in 1988 and 1992, the year she first really noticed Gostigian.
“He and I were always on a ‘hi, bye’ basis,” Monplaisir said. “And one night I realized how cute he really was!”
They began writing to each other after the Olympics and had their second date a year later. They called each other every day, racking up phone bills higher than their rents, Monplaisir said, as they each flew around the world for competitions. After three and a half years of sporadic visits, Gostigian proposed on a Hawaiian beach and the couple settled happily on the Upper West Side.
“In honor of the Olympic calendar, we got married on a leap year [on Feb. 29], so every four years, we celebrate our anniversary,” Gostigian said. (His wife asserts that he still buys her anniversary gifts every year.) By then, he had also competed in the Olympics three times.
The couple has 9-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, and Gostigian works as a private fitness trainer; he helped train a young Upper West Side fencer who is competing in foil fencing in this year’s Games. He also tried out for the Olympic pentathlon team himself this year, just for fun, he said, after qualifying for the trials.
“My kids got to watch me compete this year,” he said. “That’s a thrill, to be connected to the Olympics. We do watch a lot of the events, because we still know a lot of people at the Olympic levels, especially with fencing and pentathlon.”
Monplaisir doesn’t fence much anymore, but said she may get involved in a senior league eventually.
“Fencing has given me so much in my life,” she said. “Meeting the most amazing people in the world, great friends, a wonderful husband—what more can you ask for?”
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