Eli Sukunda is a three-time Olympian and an international champion fencer who specialized in the sabre competition. Sukunda participated in the 1976, ’84, and ’88 Olympics, captaining the Canadian team at his final Games.
Sukunda was born in Windsor on April 10, 1949.
As a student at Windsor’s Walkerville Collegiate, Sukunda was an excellent multisport athlete. He competed in soccer, cross-country, swimming, and track and field, particularly excelling in the latter.
An excellent hurdler, Sukunda won a silver medal in the Junior 120-yard hurdles and a bronze in the 440-yard hurdles at the OFSAA All-Ontario Championship. He also added a fifth place finish at the Canadian Junior Championships in 1968.
Sukunda won a “Scholar-Athlete” bursary from Wayne State University. As a third-year student, he met Istvan Danosi, the highly respected fencer, which sparked a lifelong passion for the sport.
After graduating from Wayne State, Sukunda moved on to the University of Toronto, where he obtained a Master’s Degree in English Literature. At Toronto, he won two consecutive OUAA titles, in 1972 and ’73, in the sabre competition.
Sukunda began to compete on the national and international circuits in 1975. He won a gold medal at the Canada Games and earned a place on Canada’s national team.
1976 was a particularly strong year for Sukunda, who participated in his first Olympics, placed fourth at the Canadian Championships, and finished sixth at the Corbie Cup in London, England. The latter finish was the best ever by a Canadian. He was named Athlete of the Year by the Windsor Kinsmen.
On March 8, 1978, Sukunda’s budding fencing career was thrown into serious jeopardy as the result of a bizarre incident that left him fighting for his life. While working in Windsor at his father’s tavern, Sukunda was assaulted by an unruly patron whom he had asked politely to leave the premises. The patron assaulted him, stabbing his six times in the chest, arm, and face with a six-inch blade. Sukunda received fifty-five stitches, a punctured lung, and a chest wound that came within an eighty of an inch of perforating his heart. He spent two days in intensive care. His excellent physical condition and robust will allowed Sukunda to make what some called a miraculous recovery. He left the hospital under his own power seven days after being admitted. Two months later, he was back in competition.
Exactly seven months to the day after his stabbing, he won an international tournament in Poland – his first.
Over the course of a long and highly successful career, Sukunda competed at Pan-Am Games in 1975, ’79, and ’83. At the Canadian Championships, he won gold in 1984 to go with silver medals in ’75, ’78, ’81, and ’82.
Sukunda won further gold medals at the Canada Games (1979, ’80), Ottawa Generals Cup (’79, ’80), London Heroes Cup (four times), and six consecutive Ottawa Shield Tournaments (’76-81).
Sukunda won individual bronze and team gold at the 1982 Commonwealth Games, team silver at the ’78 Commonwealth Games and ’75 and ’82 Canadian Championships, and team bronze at the Pan-Am Games in ’75, ’79, and ’83.
During and following his competitive career, Sukunda coached at the University of Windsor from 1977 to ’93. In 14 of his 16 seasons, Sukunda’s Lancer teams finished no worse than second at the OUAA level in combined scoring, which takes into account the sabre, epee, and foil events. Windsor won the OUAA title in 1982 and ’86 under Sukunda. In particular, his University of Windsor sabre team was undefeated (107-0) in OUAA league and exhibition competition between 1981 and ’88.
Sukunda coached the Canadian National Team at the 1993 World University Games in Buffalo, where his sabre team finished fourth.
Sukunda eventually moved on from the University of Windsor to take a teaching and coaching position at Ottawa’s Carleton University. He left an impressive legacy.