On the closing day of the fencing event at the European Games Kraków-Malopolska 2023, team Hungary clinched a gold medal in the team men’s epee competition.
The world no. 4 entered the competition as the third seed, thanks to which they had a BYE in the round of 32. In the round of 16 they faced Denmark and won quite comfortably, 45-32. The young Hungarian squad then faced Spain, who except the two fencers that reached the individual top 8, was reinforced by world-class fencer Yulen PEREIRA (ESP). The Hungarians did not dominate, but steadily chipped away at the Spaniards, clinching a few points every leg. Ultimately, after a 14-13 win in the final leg for David NAGY (HUN), Hungary won 37-32 to advance to the semifinal. Awating them was world no. 2 Italy, who had convincingly won their previous matches. After a tie at 8-8 following the third leg, the match looked to offer the excitement that was expected. Again, however, the solid defence and maturity of the Hungarian team saw them take incremental leads throughout the whole match. After a tough battle in the final leg, the result was written 45-35 in favour of Hungary.
Their opponent in the final, Switzerland, entered the competition as the 4th seed and also received a BYE in the round of 32. In the round of 16 they managed to defeat Austria by 45-38, led by the veteran Max HEINZER (SUI). The quarterfinal against home favourites Poland was considerably tougher, and after five legs the standing was 11-11. From there the Polish could not keep up, and after leg 8 the Swiss were up by seven points, 23-16. After a solid performance in the final leg by captain HEINZER, the Swiss advanced to the semifinal 28-23. In the semifinal they faced the giant which is France, world no. 1 and the best team in the world. Switzerland pulled away early in the match, and after six legs were actually up by five points, 26-21. In the seventh leg, the young Theo BROCHARD (SUI) replaced Hadrien FAVRE (SUI), and had to fence Romain CANNONE (FRA), reigning Olympic champion. CANNONE showed why he is one of the best in the world as he successfully defeated BROCHARD to bring back France into the match, 30-30. In the eight leg Alexis BAYARD (SUI) came on for Switzerland and won 7-3, sending Max HEINZER to the last leg with a four-point lead. Despite a valiant effort by French anchor Alexandre BARDENET, the Swiss won 45-43 to reach the final.
The bronze match was as thrilling as expected when the two rivals Italy and France face off. France took a lead 15-14 by the fourth leg, and kept the lead within one point until the seventh leg, when the result was 27-26. In the eight leg, Italy’s VISMARA, new to the team, fenced Nelson LOPEZ POURTIER from France. The Italian came out on top and managed to conquer the lead, 31-30. In the final leg Davide DI VEROLI (ITA) showed nerves of steel and secured the bronze for Italy with a result 39-37. In the post-game interview they were content with the day: ”We are very happy, even if we course wanted to be in the gold medal match. We faced France in the bronze medal match, the strongest team in the world right now, so we are very content with out performance”. When asked about their preparation for the upcoming world championship in Milano, they said: ”We are going to train. Okey maybe first some vacation, but then full training again.”
The much-anticipated final between Switzerland and Hungary delivered the excitement that was promised, with fencing of world class being produced on the piste. After five legs Hungary was up 13-11, but in no way had the Swiss given up. They started to come back, but the defensive prodigy that Hungary is managed to keep Switzerland away and entering the eight leg, the former were leading 20-17. It was, however, something other than the fencing which came to be the focus of the match. Early in the eight leg the match was paused as the Swiss team found out they were the subject of a protest for illegal substitution of an injured fencer, something which could lead to a black card and disqualification. Pending the decision from the officials, the match took a break for almost 30 minutes. When the match commenced the Swiss were clearly affected by the situation, and Hungary could carry away with 28-26 to secure the gold medal, Hungary’s first in the championship. It was a happy Hungarian team at the press conference, but the Swiss captain HEINZER moved many tears: ”Today I was fencing for my three kids back home, it is hard being away from them. We fight very hard and I wish to give them these silver medal.”. An emotional HEINZER continued: ”It would be awful to have these medals taken away from us in such an unfair way. I hope that fair play will prevail and that we get to keep the medals which we deserve.”
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.