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When he retained his Olympic sabre title at Rio 2016, Hungary’s Áron Szilágyi became only the fifth fencer to win back-to-back individual gold medals since 1896. Still only 26 at the time of that second triumph, Szilágyi has since set his sights on a third title at Tokyo 2020.
The winners of 87 Olympic medals since 1896, including 37 golds, Hungary is a traditional superpower of world fencing, especially in the men’s sabre, an event in which its fencers won 11 out of 12 golds between 1908 and 1964. Leading the way was the late, great Aladár Gerevich, who won a record 10 individual and team medals – seven of them gold – between Los Angeles 1932 and Rome 1960.
Determined to follow in that fine tradition, Aron Szilágyi took up fencing at the age of nine, learning his trade from Gerevich’s son Gyorgi, a top-level coach at the Budapest fencing club Vasas SC. The Gereviches have proved to be a huge source of inspiration for the young Szilágyi, firing him on his rise to the very top of international fencing.
A highly accomplished young performer, Szilágyi was 17 when he was called up to the Hungary team for the 2007 FIE World Championships in St Petersburg (RUS), where he collected the first gold medal of his career in the team event with Tamás Decs, Balázs Lontay and Zsolt Nemcsik. The Hungarian quartet’s 45-43 defeat of defending champions France gave them their first gold in the event since 1998.
Szilágyi made his Olympic debut in Beijing the following year, losing 15-10 to the USA’s Keeth Smart in the last 16, while his team went down 45-44 to the Americans in the quarter-finals. The Hungarians partially atoned for that disappointment by winning bronze at the 2009 Worlds in Antalya (TUR), while Szilágyi picked up an individual bronze at the European Championships in Sheffield (GBR) two years later.
The Budapest-born right-hander has lived by the motto “You can’t always win but you must always try”. Going into London 2012 he was ranked sixth in the world and was the only Hungarian to feature in the 36-man field for the Olympic individual sabre competition.
Finding some irresistible form, Szilágyi beat Malaysia’s Yu Peng Kean 15-1 in the Round of 32 before disposing of China’s Zhong Man, the Beijing 2008 champion, 15-10 in the next round. The Hungarian’s next victim was Germany’s Max Hartung in the quarter-finals (15-13), with a 13-7 defeat of Russia’s Nikolay Kovalev then taking him into the gold medal match, where he faced Diego Ochiuzzi of Italy.
Szilágyi surged into a 7-0 lead, only for the Italian to fight back to 9-5 and then 12-7. The Hungarian would not be denied, however, and went on to record a 15-8 win to give his country its first individual sabre gold since Bence Szabo’s victory at Barcelona 1992.
Made a Citizen of Honour of Budapest and awarded the Hungarian Order of Merit for his exploits in London, Szilágyi, who stands 1.80m tall and weighs 78kg, has stayed in the top three of the world rankings since then.
An individual sabre bronze medallist at the 2013 World Championships in Budapest, Szilágyi won a world team bronze in Kazan (RUS) a year later, before finally winning his first individual world crown in Montreux (SUI) in June 2015, when he shrugged off an injured right ankle to beat Hartung 15-11 in the final. He then had the honour of being Hungary’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony of Rio 2016.
Forty-eight hours after stepping out at the Maracanã, Szilágyi began his sabre title defence, beating Mexico’s Julian Ayala 15-9 before then seeing off Aliaksandr Buikevich of Belarus 15-12. A 15-10 defeat of Romania’s Tiberiu Dolniceanu was followed by victory by the same scoreline against Republic of Korea’s Kim Junghwan in the semi-final.
The Hungarian was the only one of the tournament favourites to win through to the final, with world No1 and reigning world champion Alexei Yakimenko falling by the wayside, as did fellow Russian and 2014 world champion Kovalev and Republic of Korea’s world No2 Gu Bongil.
Standing in the way of Szilágyi and a second successive gold was the USA’s Daryl Homer. The American was no match for the Hungarian, however, with a 15-8 victory allowing Szilágyi to become only the fifth man after compatriots Jeno Fuchs (1908-1912) and Rudolf Karpaty (1956-1960), the Soviet Union’s Viktor Krovopuskov (1976-1980) and France’s Jean-François Lamour (1984-1988) to complete an Olympic individual sabre double.