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Despite France’s status as one of the world’s great fencing nations, international success in the sabre had long eluded it. Jean-François Lamour changed all that.
Going back to the very first Olympic Games of the modern era in 1896, France has always been regarded as one of the powerhouses of international fencing. However, while there were always successes aplenty in the foil and épée, the sabre yielded little joy. In fact, after Georges de La Falaise won Olympic gold in Paris in 1900, France endured decades of disappointment in the discipline. Then in the mid-1960s, an eight-year old Parisian by the name of Jean-François Lamour enrolled at the Maisons-Alfort fencing school and soon chose to specialise in the sabre. It was a decision that would later transform his country’s fortunes in the event.
The sabre had long since fallen out of fashion in France, and the event was now largely the preserve of the East Europeans. However, Lamour started to dominate the national championships, eventually going on to rack up a record 13 titles. Such was his talent, that the French Fencing Federation decided to recruit renowned Hungarian fencing master Laszlo Szepesi in a bid to maximise the talent of their new star and regalvanise the ailing fortunes of the French sabre team. Working under Szepesi from 1982, Lamour, or “Jeff” as he was known, quickly rose to the top of the international rankings.
On 4 August 1984 on the piste at the Long Beach Convention Center in Los Angeles, Lamour ended France’s 84-year wait for success in the sabre when he defeated Italy’s Marco Marin 12-11 in a fiercely contested individual final. He went on to lead France to the team sabre final, where they lost out to Italy. Four years later in Seoul, Lamour successfully defended his individual title thanks to a comfortable 10-4 victory over Poland’s Janusz Olech in the final. Then at Barcelona 1992, where he was the flag-bearer for the French delegation during the Opening Ceremony, he added two bronze medals in the individual and team competitions. Lamour’s successes ensured a growth in the popularity of the sabre in France, and helped spawn a new generation of fencers competing at the top level.
After calling time on his fencing career, Lamour was appointed advisor on sport to the then Mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac and he served in a similar role when the latter became France’s President in 1995. Between 2002 and 2007, Lamour served as France’s Minister of Youth Affairs and Sport, and was also Vice-President of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) during the same period. He remains actively involved in domestic politics today, having been elected to the country’s National Assembly as deputy for the 13th district of Paris in 2007.