At the 1932 Olympic Games, the need for discipline and fair play among the participants in the fencing competitions was even more acute than usual, due to a notable lack of experienced judges. As the Official Report comments, with the majority of people qualified to adjudicate being based in Europe, of those who had travelled to Los Angeles, most were competitors.
“This difficulty, however, was overcome by the splendid co-operation of the fencers themselves,” the Official Report notes. “One of the features of the fencing events was the entire lack of friction and of all conduct of an unsportsmanlike character. While the hall resounded constantly with the voices of the contestants, these were the cries of combat and not of dissension.”
Jean Piot had more to shout about than most. Born in Saint-Quentin, northern France, the 42-year-old was part of a French team that arrived in Los Angeles with justifiably high hopes. Among their ranks was 40-year-old Philippe Cattiau, whose Olympic medal haul already included (one gold and four silvers, won in a period stretching back to the 1920 Antwerp Games. Despite being two years older, Piot, by contrast, was making his Olympic debut.
The setting was the former great hall of the Armory of the 160th Infantry, California National Guard, which had been transformed into a 160-feet long field of honour on which more than one hundred fenders from 16 countries would go toe to toe. In total, seven fencing events were contested, six for men and one for women, with the former competing in individual and team foil, individual and team épée, and individual and team sabre.
Piot and Cattiau were the only Frenchmen to be selected for both the team épée and team foil events and the duo basked in mutual glory as the French team vanquished their opponents to win double gold.
Cattiau it would go on to add to his medal haul at the Berlin Games four years later, winning a bronze. But Piot’s first taste of Olympic glory would also turn out to be the last.
He did achieve further success at the 1935 International Championships, winning the team sabre title, and then regaining his French Championship title in both 1935 (sabre) and 1933 (épée). But his Olympic golds in 1932 were without question the pinnacle of his sporting career.
Piot died in France in 1961, aged 72, but the family name continued its association with fencing thanks to three further generations who themselves became notable practitioners of the noble art.