- 17 Oct 1968
- Mexico 1968
Erudite Pawlowski reigns supreme in the sabre
There was very little that was conventional about the life of Jerzy Pawlowski. A major in the Polish army, and a law major, he won five Olympic medals, broke Hungary's hold on his sport, was imprisoned as a spy and then became a faith healer.
Few sportsmen have lived a life of such colour. Pawlowski become interested in fencing at the comparatively late age of 16 after watching films of the 1948 Olympics in London. He continued after joining the Polish army as a teenager, by now focused on the sabre.
Success came quickly. Despite his late adoption of the sport, he was runner-up in the world under-21 championship and in 1956, he took a silver medal. His style was graceful and lithe, almost a throwback to the sport's most elegant forebears.
An Olympic gold medal eluded him, though. Team silver medals were secured in 1956 and 1960, while 1964 brought a team bronze. But, at the age of 35, Pawlowski knew that the 1968 Games marked one of his final chances to fulfil the great ambition.
His run-up to the Games was unusual. As well as training, he also busied himself finishing his law dissertation, which came with the title “A critique of Hayek's Neo-Liberal Conception of Liberty and Law”. If it was a distraction, it proved a useful one, for the 1968 Games finally delivered the gold he wanted.
His performance was stunning, finishing the 1968 Games with a win-loss total of 16-2 in the individual men's Sabre and beat the Soviet world champion Mark Rakita in the final. It was the first time in 48 years that the gold had not gone to a Hungarian.
Pawlowski was the sabre World Champion three times and runner-up four times. He was acclaimed as one of the country's greatest sportsman and was loved as a celebrity. That all changed – suddenly – when he was arrested in 1975 for being a CIA spy and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Ten years later, he was exchanged for three Communist spies, but chose to remain in Poland, working as a painter, faith healer and as the co-owner of a restaurant and sheep farm.