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The bout was a repeat of the teams’ showdown in the final at the world championships in Moscow last year but this time the world No.2 defeated the No.1 by a score of 44-38 to collect Romania’s first medal at Rio 2016.
At her fourth Olympic Games, Beijing 2008 individual silver medallist Ana Maria Popescu made up for her ninth place in the individual event with a powerful display of classy fencing in the last dramatic bout against London 2012 gold medallist Xu Anqi, who arrived in Rio ranked best in the world.
With two of the world’s ten best épée fencers coming into Rio, the Romanian women held a lead at the end of every bout and lost just three of 18 match-ups in the semi-final and final.
An elated Popescu said: “We made history today, it’s amazing. We dreamed about this day for such a long time, and now we did it – we just did it. We felt like Romania was here in this arena with us. We have such great supporters, and we want to thank you guys for being here today with us."
Popescu said that eliminating London 2012 bronze medallists USA in extra-time in the quarter-finals had been the most difficult moment along the way but that everything had gone right as they saw off their opponents. “Fencing is a one-day sport and today was our day, for sure. In the bout against the USA they enjoyed fencing and we didn't, and we hadn’t beaten China in the last two years. But it doesn't matter now, it was our moment.”
Popescu’s team-mate Simona Gherman agreed that the bout against the USA was the toughest test, adding: "We are so proud because we worked so hard. I’ve been fencing since I was 11, so now I’m 32 and winning a gold medal is a dream come true.”
Earlier, after beating London 2012 silver medallists Republic of Korea in the quarter-finals, world No.4 Estonia lost the bronze medal bout to world No.3 Russia and missed out on taking their country’s first Olympic medal in fencing.
Tenth in the individual event, Estonia’s Irina Embrich fenced strongly, but the Russian team eventually won 37-31, claiming its fifth medal in the sport in as many days.