Ilona Elek was already 29 years old when she competed in fencing (foil) in her first Olympic Games, the 1936 Games in Berlin.
Defending her title after 12 years
In the final pool, she faced and defeated the winners of the last two Olympic championships, bettering Helene Mayer of Germany 5-4 and Ellen Preis of Austria 5-3 to gain the gold medal. The next two editions of the Games were cancelled because of war, but when the Olympic Games resumed in London in 1948, Elek became one of only two champions from 1936 to successfully defend her title.
A spectacular victory
To do so after a 12-year interlude was a tremendous achievement in itself. But the manner in which she won added to the drama. In her next-to-last bout she trailed Maria Cerra of the United States 2-0 before scoring four straight hits. Then, with the winner earning the gold medal, she defeated Denmark's Karen Lachmann 4-2 as well. Elek's sister, Margit, placed sixth in the same event.
Competing at 45 years old
Ilona returned to the Olympic Games one more time in 1952. Despite being 45 years old, she won her first twenty bouts, but was finally defeated by Irene Camber of Italy in the gold-medal barrage by the slim margin of 4-3.