Hungary’s Aron Szilagyi made Olympic fencing history on Saturday in Tokyo as he took the sabre title for a third time in a row.
The 31-year-old defeated Italy’s Luigi Samele 15-7 in the final and becomes the first man to win three Olympic gold medals in the same individual event in the sport.
In the other medal event on day one of the fencing in the Japanese capital, China’s Sun Yiwen defeated Romania’s Ana Maria Popescu 11-10 in overtime to win a tense women’s epee gold — like the men, the duo walked out to the theme tune of “Star Wars”.
Estonia’s Katrina Lehis won women’s epee bronze, with Kim Jung-hwan of South Korea taking bronze in the men’s sabre.
Szilagyi, who adds Tokyo gold to his hauls from the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics, said he was in shock at what he had achieved.
“My first thought was that I can’t believe it, it’s not happening, it’s not real, it’s just a dream,” said the Hungarian, who has a reputation for being modest and down-to-earth.
“And (it) still is, I think I will need a couple of weeks, probably months, to believe what happened here.”
The right-hander breezed past Iran’s Ali Pakdaman 15-6 in the quarter-finals to set up a last-four showdown with Georgia’s Sandro Bazadze.
Bazadze had stunned South Korea’s world number one Oh Sang-uk, nicknamed “Monster” because of his towering physique, in the quarter-finals.
Bazadze then pushed Budapest-born Szilagyi, who has been fencing since the age of nine when his mother took him to a fencing club, all the way in a tetchy semi-final before the Hungarian squeezed through 15-13.
The Georgian was furious with the officiating, remonstrating with officials after defeat and then spitting on the floor as he stalked his way through the “mixed zone” where journalists interview the competitors.
An unflustered Szilagyi carried his imperious form into the final at the Makuhari Messe Hall, where — in line with most events in Tokyo — spectators are barred because of the coronavirus.
Szilagyi said that he had ploughed on with his preparations even in the face of pandemic lockdowns, including working out at home and going running to keep in prime fitness for his stab at Olympic history.
“I never lost the target (to win gold), even during the pandemic when I was not able to train with my team-mates, club or national team,” he said.
Tears for dying father
China’s Sun, who won bronze in 2016, dissolved into tears at the post-ceremony press conference after a reporter asked about her father.
He has been diagnosed with cancer and is fighting for his life in a Beijing hospital.
“I knew about my father’s condition some time ago and am trying to be hopeful, but what can I do?” the 29-year-old asked, her eyes filling with tears.
“He’s being treated now and is in a stable condition, but just a month earlier we were told that he was not going to make it.
“I was training, getting ready for the competition, but there was a high probability that I would not see him again after Tokyo.
“But luckily he is still alive and we remain hopeful.”