The history of the men’s foil event suggested that the winner would come from France or Italy, perhaps Hungary or the Soviet Union. Few would have suggested that it would be the Polish flag that would be hoisted to celebrate the gold medal winner.
But that’s exactly what happened, thanks to one of the surprise winners of these Games. His name was Egon Franke and he emerged victorious. Franke made an art of doing just enough to get through, winning four of his five bouts in the first round, and then three out of five in the quarter-finals. Throughout, he gave the impression of being a cheerful and rather engaging person, and the Tokyo crowds took to him.
In the semi-finals he first beat Great Britain’s Henry Hoskyns 10-4 and then, in another nail-biting contest, he got the better of American veteran Albie Axelrod, a bronze medallist four years before, by 10-9.
Now Franke was in the final pool, aware that, having come into the competition as an outsider, he was now in line for a medal. In his first bout he beat the Austrian Roland Losert 5-1. Next was another tight victory, this time 5-4, over France’s Daniel Revenu before a contest with another Frenchman, Jean-Claude Magnan, which produced another 5-4 win. The gold medal was now his.
Franke was a week short of his 29th birthday. Employed as a technical administrator, he had attended the Rome Games as part of the Polish team that tied for fifth place, but had not previously been selected for the individual foil. Now, buoyed by his success, he helped Poland to take silver in the team competition to complete a memorable double.
Four years later, he again missed out on selection for the individual foil, despite being the reigning champion, but did win another medal, this time bronze, in the team event.