11 August 2008 :The first fencing medals of the 2008 Olympic Games were won in the men’s épée when Matteo Tagliariol from Italy beat French Fabrice Jeannet 15-9 in the final to take gold. It was the first gold medal for Italy in Men’ Individual Epee since 1960, the Rome Games. Tagliariol was overwhelmed: “I have lost my voice, I am so excited right now and I have no way of expresing myself.”
Fencing is one of only four sports to have featured at every modern Olympic Games, and was the first to allow professionals to take part. The men’s épée, the traditional sword of duels, was not among the disciplines at the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 but was introduced four years later in Paris, when Cuba’s Ramón Fonst Segundono took gold at the age of just 16. He successfully defended his title at the next Games in St Louis, and is still the only man to have done so in the individual épée. He also won the foil for good measure.
However, Fonst’s versatility could not compare with Italy’s Nedo Nadi, the only man to have won with each of the three main weapons at the same Games. In 1912, when only 18, he won the foil. Then, after being decorated by his government for bravery in World War I, he won an unprecedented and unequalled five gold medals in Antwerp in 1920: the individual foil and sabre, plus the team foil, épée and sabre. His brother, Aldo, also won gold in each of the three team events.
No account of Olympic fencing would be complete without mention of Hungary’s astonishing run of gold medal winners in the men’s individual sabre from 1908 all the way through to 1964, missing out only in 1920 when they did not compete. Meanwhile, the fencing prowess of Italy’s men has continued to this day. In Athens four years ago, Aldo Montano won the sabre, and became the third generation of his family to win an Olympic medal in the competition.
On the women’s side, Ilona Elek was already 29 when she competed in the Berlin Games, her first. In the foil she defeated the winners of the two previous Games, Helene Mayer of Germany and Ellen Preis of Austria, to take the gold medal. When the Games resumed after the war in London in 1948, Elek became one of only two champions from 1936 to successfully defend her title. Many years later, Elek’s fellow Hungarian Timea Nagy, who began fencing at the age of 14 to impress a boyfriend, also managed to defend her Olympic title by winning the épée in 2000 and 2004.