From a field of 96 fencers, Tristan TULEN from the Netherlands came out on top to win the gold medal of the men’s epee individual event at the European Games 2023 Kraków-Malopolska.
The competition was one full of surprises, with many highly ranked fencers exiting early. World no. 16 Valerio CUOMO (ITA), for instance, was eliminated already in the round of 128. Moreover, world no. 2 Gergely SIKLOSI lost in an upset to Topias TAURIAINEN (FIN) in the round of 64, finishing 40th. The top 16 featured, besides experienced fencers Mate Tamas KOCH (HUN) and Igor REIZLIN (UKR), many new faces such as Alex DUDUC (SVK) and Max RÖD (POR).
As for TULEN, he had a near-perfect record in the pool round, losing only one bout, which took him to the direct elimination as the 11th seed. After an initial BYE in the round of 128, he faced off against Linus ISLAS FLYGARE (SWE). It initially looked bad for the Dutch as he was trailing 6-9 to the Swedish fencer. However, after a much-needed break TULEN clawed his way back and even surpassed ISLAS FLYGARE, eventually closing the match out with the score 15-13. It would not get easier in the following round where he faced opposition in the form of Sten PRIINITS (EST). The two epeeists traded hits for most of the match, and TULEN won only after a very thrilling priority minute, 11-10. A priority minute also decided the bout in the following round where TULEN defeated 6th-ranked David NAGY (HUN) 9-8 after another close match. The rest of the road to the final was easier for the world no. 30 as he defeated Alexis BAYARD (SUI) 15-8 and Manuel BARGUES (ESP) 15-12.
His opponent in the final was the sensation of the day, 20-year old Miguel FRAZAO (POR). Ranked as the 292nd fencer in the world, FRAZAO had the competition of his career as he secured the silver medal. The youngster had a rough start to the day, winning only 3 bouts in the pool, which awarded him the 41st seed in the direct elimination. Following a BYE in the round of 128, FRAZAO defeated Flavio GIANNOTTE (LUX) 15-13 and Frederik VON DER OSTEN (DEN) 15-9 to reach the round of 16. There he faced 8th-ranked Maciej BIELEC (POL), but FRAZAO’s unique fencing style secured him the win 11-10 after a priority minute. The quarterfinal was special not only for FRAZAO, who had to fence his own brother, but also for Portugal, who had three fencers in the top 8. The quarterfinal, against brother Filipe FRAZAO (POR) and semifinal, against Volodymyr STANKEVYCH (UKR), were both close matches that FRAZAO came out on top from 15-14. On fencing his sibling, big brother Filipe said: ”We train together every day so if course it was a difficult match. He is a very good fencer and today was not my day.”
The final was not very eventful at the start as the two fencers traded his with each other. TULEN came out of the break with a new strategy, fencing more in defence to lure the Portuguese to come to him. It turned out to be a successful strategy, and the 2022 European silver medalist secured the gold medal with a score of 15-10. In a post-game interview the champion explained what the medal meant: “This means a lot for Dutch fencing. We do not have a fencing program yet in the Netherlands, and I hope that next season, which is an Olympic season, will be even better.”
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.
Text: Daniel Lazer