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A truly exceptional fencer, Frenchman Lucien Gaudin had to wait until he was in his forties to finally win individual Olympic gold medals in the foil and épée at Amsterdam 1928.
Between 31 July and 7 August 1928 in Amsterdam’s Schermzaal fencing hall, the 42-year-old Lucien Gaudin, who was competing at his third Olympic Games, finally got his hands on two individual gold medals.
He began with victory in the foil, triumphing in all of his five-touch bouts in the first round, and then in the semi-final and final pools, as well as in a three-way gold medal barrage with Erwin Casimir (GER) and Giulio Gaudini (ITA), who took silver and bronze respectively.
A few days later in the épée – where the early rounds were decided by one touch and the semi-finals and final by two – Gaudin landed gold ahead of compatriot Géo Bouchard and George Calnan (USA). In addition, he picked up silver in the team foil to earn his sixth and last Olympic medal.
Already considered the greatest French fencer of his era after a succession of stunning épée and foil victories, Gaudin was unable to take part in London 1908, due to military service commitments. Subsequently, in 1912, a disagreement over the permitted epee blade length led to France withdrawing its fencing team from the Stockholm Games.
In 1920 in Antwerp, the gifted left-hander finally gained a taste of Olympic competition, after being awarded special “exceptional class” status which helped him bypass the French selection process. However, he suffered a foot injury during the team foil event, and despite helping his team-mates to secure a silver medal, had to abandon hopes of individual success.
Crowned French foil champion every year between 1905 and 1914, and world épée champion in 1905, 1918 and 1921, Gaudin also claimed the inaugural European épée title in 1921.
On 30 January 1922, keen to prove once and for all that he was the greatest fencer in the world, he locked horns with three-time Olympic gold medallist Aldo Nadi (ITA) in a much anticipated foil bout dubbed the “Match of the Century” by the press. The encounter, staged in Paris in front of 7,000 spectators, was won by Gaudin by a score of 20 to 11.
During the Paris Games in 1924, a 38-year-old Gaudin brilliantly inspired the French foil and épée teams to gold medal glory, winning all 22 of his bouts in the former and spearheading a closely contested victory over Italy in the latter. Bad luck struck again, though, as an injury to his left hand prevented him from competing on an individual basis.
After scaling the heights at Amsterdam 1928, he brought the curtain down on his incredible career, during which he became one of only two French Olympians – Christian d’Oriola, another fencer, being the other – to win four gold medals at the Games.
A banker by trade, Gaudin was a highly generous individual who donated his 40,000 franc prize for defeating Nadi to charity. However, tragedy struck when, having suffered financial ruin, he took his own life on 23 September 1934.