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Daniele Garozzo stayed the distance in the men’s individual foil to win Italy’s first gold in the event since Alessandro Puccini topped the podium at Atlanta 1996.
The 24-year-old, a silver medallist at last year’s European championships, survived a late rally from the USA’s Alexander Massialas to win the final 15-11.
The world No1 and world championship runner-up, Massialas made Garozzo work for the gold. Having come from 14-8 down to beat another Italian, Giorgio Avola, in the quarter-final, the American threatened an exact repeat against Garozzo, reeling off three straight touches before his opponent made the title his.
“He almost did the exact same thing he did to me in the World Cup in Shanghai this year,” recalled the new champion. “I was 12-5 ahead in the quarter-finals and he ended up beating me 15-13.”
Elated at holding the persistent Massialas off, the Italian added: “I think it’s impossible. I really can’t believe what’s happening now. If you told me this yesterday, I wouldn’t believe it. This is the best day of my life. I can tell no more. It’s a dream come true.”
The Sicilian foilist added: “It’s a great honour for me to be the one to succeed Puccini, one of the legends of Italian foil. I can’t believe it.”
Discussing his immediate plans, Garozzo said: “Have a drink or relax for two days, and then we’re going to have the team competition and then have a big holiday.”
After beating Tarek Ayad of Egypt 15-8 in the last 32, the Italian saw off another Egyptian in Alaaeldin Abouelkassem in the last 16, before easing past home fencer Guilherme Toldo and European champion Timur Safin of Russia to book his place in the final.
The men’s foil competition has proved a happy hunting ground for the Italians over the years, with Garozzo’s victory giving them their ninth Olympic gold medal in the event, equalling the record by France.
In the bronze-medal match, Safin weathered a late charge by Great Britain’s Richard Kruse to win 15-13. Pleased to get something for his efforts, the Russian said: “I feel very good. I got the bronze, but we are going to be trying to get more in our team tournament. It is the most important medal I have ever had, but I will be working more to get the gold.”