Olympics has been a platform where achievements have had defied both the waning reflexes of approaching age and the competitive inexperience of teenage participation. True to this statement, today let us meet you an Olympic fencer who had won a gold medal at the ripe age of 50 – a feat that looked almost impossible in the sport needing sharp hand-eye coordination.
Apart from winning at an age at which sportspersons generally seem to already have spent a decade off competitive participation, the legendary Hungarian fencer Aladár Gerevich took fencing to a new level by winning an event six times! In all, the iconic Olympian won nine medals at the quadrennial event – his maiden and final podium finishes came 28 years apart which is a joint record that he holds with Kiwi equestrian Mark Todd.
Before we go into the accomplishments of the “CNN’s greatest Olympic swordsman ever”, let me tell you a bit about fencing. Fencing is a sport which consists of three separate disciplines – Foil, Épée and Sabre. In foil, points can be scored by hitting with blade tips onto the upper waist part of the body except the arms. Épée rules entire body as target and unlike the others, allows simultaneous hits by both the fencers with sword tips. Sabre unlike the others, allows any upper waist touch by both the tip as well as side blades.
Into the story when Gerevich won his first sabre team event with the Hungarian fencers at the Los Angeles Games in 1932, his future wife Erna Bogen too bagged a bronze in the individual foil. Gerevich did not lose a contest against the Polish and Italian fencers at the later stages of the competition. In the next Games at the politically-frenzied Berlin, he lost to eventual gold medalist and teammate Endre Kabos for a bronze in the individual sabre but won the team event for the same again. Apart from Hungary’s 7th place finish at foil, the biggest setback of Gerevich was that he missed the next 12 years of his prime playing career as the Games stayed suspended in the wake, devastation and aftermath of the Second World War.
At the 1948 London Games, Gerevich picked up two gold medals at the individual and team sabres respectively. However at the team foil, the Hungarian swordsmen came fifth. At Helsinki four summers down the line, Gerevich bagged three medals in as many events – a fourth career gold at team sabre, silver at individual Sabre and a first career bronze at team foil. The three Hungarian stalwarts of Pal Ovach, Gerevich himself and Tibor Bertselli completed the podium at the individual sabre presentation ceremony – a perfect advertisement of their supremacy in the sports.
In 1956 at Melbourne, Gerevich, then 46, added a fifth team sabre crown to his kitty before he would tide against time and a concern from the national fencing committee about his age-old participation by winning the team sabre title for the record sixth time at his swansong in Rome 1960. Thus he became the only athlete to win the same event a record six times!
In the individual event, Gerevich came fifth at Melbourne before losing a few close bouts at the semi-finals at Rome which otherwise would have landed him with another individual medal for sure.
He had some of the finest Hungarian fencers who excelled in sabres in his playing days – at a time when fencing was the most sought for sports in the European country. In five of the team events, he had the services of another evergreen Hungarian fencer and the 1952 individual gold winner Pál Kovács. Post war, two-times individual champion Rudolf Kárpáti was another of his brothers-in-arms. Another two fellow countrymen who also waited for the Games to resume after the war were László Rajcsányi and 1952 individual bronze winner Tibor Berczelly.
Fencing runs through the Gerevich family. Apart from his wife and Olympic silver medalist father-in-law Albert Bógathy, both his sons were into fencing with Pál Gerevich going on to become a two-time bronze medalist at the Games. Pál’s wife Gyöngyi Bardi also represented Hungary at Olympics though in volleyball.