Mount Holly Olympian remembers 1972 Games

By Kathy Blake

MOUNT HOLLY – Bert Freeman has a box of yellowed Polaroids from his athletic days. He has a replica of the belt buckle with the Olympic rings – a gift from Sears, Roebuck & Co., which provided team uniforms for the 1972 Munich Games. The fencer’s foil he keeps is a bit old, a strip of duct tape visible on the lefthanded grip.

Bert Freeman, of Mount Holly, competed for the U.S. in fencing at the 1972 Olympic Games. Though he's no longer active in the sport, he sometimes takes out his foil and other mementos and shares his story with others. (Martina Helton/MIM photo)

It’s all put up now, in a closet, a chapter of his life tucked away for safe-keeping. He takes it out sometimes, when he wants to remember.

“Every now and then, I get in the fencing stance … you just feel you can do it again,” he said. “Every now and then, I get the urge.”

Freeman, 64, of Mount Holly, and member of the Huntersville Toastmasters Club, was on the United States fencing team in the Olympic Games many remember for the Palestinian terrorists’ massacre of 11 Israeli athletes. But he has other Olympic memories, too – pleasant ones, that still make him laugh.

Freeman’s fencing career began late and ascended rapidly. He was the U.S. national champion in 1972, at a time when African-American fencers were scarce. The Polaroids in the box show the big trophies, the medals, the friendships.

But ask Freeman, a former U.S. Marine and now a successful businessman, what he views as his greatest accomplishment, and he mentions none of that.

“It was getting married again in 2001,” he said. “My first wife died in 1999, and I told my sons it would take an act of God for me to get married again. That act of God occurred in 2001.”

He smiles at that, the joy in his eyes shines behind wire-rimmed glasses.

The Marine

Freeman enrolled at the Naval Academy in 1966. The coaches gave speeches about their sports. “The fencing coach got my interest,” he said. “I started getting lessons and learning how to do it.”

Fencers choose from three weapons: foil, saber and epee. Each has separate strategies, separate target zones.

Foil is the smallest weapon. The target area is the torso, below the head.

“I think it may have been picked for me,” Freeman said. “But I may have chosen foil. I wish I could tell you why, but I did.”

In his third year at Navy, Freeman advanced to the NCAA National Championships. He took third and was first-team All-American.

His senior year, he was selected NCAA Foil Fencer of the Year and made finals of the Martini Rossi, an international  invitational. He was Outstanding Varsity Athlete for his four years at Navy.

He wondered, could he make the Olympics? Wouldn’t that be something?

But in the summer of ’72, he was in Quantico, Va., with the Marine Corps. Freeman arranged with his commanding officer to train in Philadelphia and New York. At Nationals that July, he had to finish in the top three, or no Olympics.

“We had six people in the finals, and we all had to fence each other. At the fifth bout, I was 3-1; everyone else had two losses,” he said. “I won the last bout, won the National Championships, and that put me on the Olympic team.

“It was almost like a television story.”

The businessman

Freeman has a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the Naval Academy and a master’s in human relations from Golden Gate University. He was a distinguished educator consultant with the Delaware Department of Education from 1998 to 2008. He is a member of Toastmasters International and the American Society of Training and Development.

Sport can be a great teacher of unpretentiousness. Freeman’s business bio is five long paragraphs, but only one sentence – 17 words – mentions fencing and the Olympics.

“He highly motivates others to do their personal and professional best,” said Karen Dortschy, a member of the Huntersville Toastmasters Club. “He inspires people, because he’s achieved so much.”

In 1987, Freeman founded T.A.L.K. Associates (Techniques in Alternative Language Kinetics) and is its CEO. He teaches positive communication skills to businesses, schools and individuals. He has 29 specialists and facilitators, who are experts in human resources and project management.

He founded Consistent Positive Direction, a method of speaking, writing and learning, and he helps businesses with workplace respect, diversity and organizational unity.

He authored “Taking Charge of Your Positive Direction” (Trafford Publishing, 2006) and has designed Relationship, Performance and Morale (RPM) courses.

“He’s a mentor, an advisor and a role model,” Dortschy said.

The athlete

Freeman was in the Olympic Village when the eight Palestinian terrorists took their hold on the Games.

“We had telephones, and there were knocks on our doors, telling us to stay in our rooms,” he said. “It lasted maybe the better part of a day.”

But it’s the grandeur, the splendor that Freeman remembers – such as marching in the Opening Ceremony and the spectacle of it. Someone had suggested he carry newspaper in his white sport jacket, for when the swarm of pigeons was released into the air.

“It got to that part, and I was searching in my coat for my piece of newspaper, and I couldn’t find it. There’s all these pigeons in the air, and that newspaper wasn’t anywhere,” he said.

He finished “somewhere in the middle,” out of the medals. But that’s OK.

“I knew zero about fencing when I met him,” said Rita Freeman, his wife, who attended an alumni bout in 2000, when they were engaged.

“When he was winning, I thought he was losing. It was really intense.”

The box of memories, and the foil with the duct tape, are in the closet for when they’re needed. Occasionally someone will find that page of his history and bring back the smiles.

“They’ll say, ‘Wow, I never met an Olympian before,’” he said. “And when that happens, it’s pretty cool.”

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