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After a long gold medal drought, the French team can once again crown themselves European champions in men’s sabre having won the gold medal at the European Games 2023 Kraków-Malopolska. 

In their round of 16, France – Bolade APITHY, Sebastien PATRICE, Maxime PIANFETTI, and Tom SEITZ – comfortably beat Greece 45-25 to reach the quarterfinal. There they fenced reigning European silver medalists Ukraine, but the young French team managed to grab an early lead and hold on to it until their victory 45-34. In the semifinal they faced the beast which is Hungary, current world no. 2 and a team full of stars. France faced without fear, though, and despite some drama, they came out on top 45-42 to reach the gold medal match for the first time in many years. 

Their opponent was Italy, who despite an underwhelming performance at the 2022 European championships, are ranked no. 3 in the world. The Italian team, consisting of the experienced Luca CURATOLI and Luigi SAMELE, as well as youngsters Matteo NERI and Michele GALLO, had a comfortable start to the day by defeating Slovenia 45-18. Their quarterfinal match against Romania was in the hands of Italy until the young NERI had to be substituted after suffering a serious injury. The Italian team quickly recovered from the shock and had a four-point lead entering the last leg. Romanian Iulian TEODOSIU would not give up so easy, however, and brought the match to a score of 44-44. The match, and a chance for medals, rested on a single touch, which after being reviewed a long time by the referees, was awarded the Italians who advanced to the semifinal. After a shaky start against the Germans in the semifinal, the Italian team finished strongly and eventually won the match 45-34. 

The bronze match was thus between the young German team, who had a generational shift after the Tokyo Olympics, and the much feared Hungarian team, led by fencing legend Aron SZILAGYI (HUN). What on paper looked like an easy victory for Hungary turned out to be the complete opposite, and Germany never gave their opponents a chance to enter the match. After winning 15-2 in legs 4-6, the Germans commanded a lead of 16 points from which Hungary never recovered. The bronze medalists, who eventually dominated Hungary 45-28, said in the post-game interview: ”We are close together as a team and we somehow manage to focus in these situations. We fenced amazing and we don’t know where it came from but we hope we can keep the shape for the world championships in Milano.”

If the bronze medal match was a blowout, the final was almost as close as it gets. After four legs the Italians were up 20-13, but the young Frenchmen PATRICE switched it up a gear in the fifth, reducing the deficit to a mere 23-25. The match then bounced back and forth, with the two teams trading the lead up until the last bout, which Italy entered with a one-point lead. The final leg became a battle between old and young, Italian SAMELE and French PATRICE. The spirit of the youth triumphed and France eventually won 45-42, securing their first European gold in over two decades, alongside valuable Olympic qualification points. The team danced into the mixed zone, and when asked what the gold medals means, PATRICE answered: ”We feel amazing, it has been a long time since we last had a medal and we deserved it the most today. We fought all the way and we have been working a long time so it was about time the due was payed.” The gold was France’s first medal of the European Games after not having participated in any of the individual events.

Text: Daniel Lazer

European Games Krakow-Malopolska 2023 is Europe’s biggest multidisciplinary sporting event in 2023. More than seven thousand athletes are competing in 26 sports and 29 disciplines for 253 gold medals. More than that, European Games 2023 are part of the qualification process for the Olympic Games in Paris 2024 in 19 sports. This great celebration of sports starts with opening ceremony in Krakow on 21st of June. The closing ceremony will take place on July 2nd.