Italian women swept the Olympic medals in foil on Saturday, but crowned a new queen in Elisa Di Francisca, who clawed her way back in the waning seconds of regulation to land the final touch in sudden death overtime against teammate Arianna Errigo.
Valentina Vezzali, Italy’s reigning world champion, muscled past South Korea’s Nam Hyun-hee to win bronze at London’s Excel Centre.
In an amazing display of discipline and focus she snatched the 13-12 victory from a seemingly insurmountable deficit that had the world’s greatest female foilist seconds from defeat, down by four points, only to come back and win.
It was some consolation for Vezzali, who had been chasing her fourth consecutive individual Olympic gold medal after carrying the flag for her nation into the Olympic Stadium the night before.
The 38-year-old has now won 29 Olympic and world championship medals, and has her sights on the record of 39 set by countryman Edoardo Mangiarotti, who died in May aged 93. He won 13 Olympic medals between 1936 and 1960.
Errigo had defeated Vezzali in the semi-finals to face Di Francisca, who took silver in last year’s worlds after finishing first in 2010.
“I was afraid of winning,” Di Francisca said. “I did not fence very well, but I maintained good control. [Errigo] is very strong and I am born a tiger, but had to put that under control.”
Di Francisca won the bout 12-11 in sudden-death overtime after three minutes of the third period had elapsed.
Errigo had pulled ahead 11-8 with 36 seconds to go in regulation.
While she kept control, Di Francisca did let the tiger slip its leash, making a series of direct attacks to take what is called the “right of way” in fencing, landing her touches, or points, on the valid target, which is the torso.
First-time Olympian Lee Kiefer of the US came fifth, the best finish for the Americans in women’s foil since 1996.
Kiefer, who took third in last year’s worlds, is the youngest member of the US fencing team at just 18 years and she is off to Notre Dame in the fall to start college.
Earlier, Errigo ended Vezzali’s quest for a record fourth gold, after what is already an unprecedented three straight golds plus a silver in her first Olympiad in Atlanta, Georgia.
Their semi-final bout, filled with strategic footwork, shaking fists and primal screams, demonstrated the attacking style of Errigo against Vezzali’s calculated steps and counterattacking technique.
Errigo, contesting her first Olympics, won silver and bronze in the 2010 and 2009 world championships respectively.
However, on winning silver in her first Olympics, Errigo said she was not happy.
“My dream is the gold medal. Yes I am young, but I am sad. To have silver on just one point, it is not nice,” she said.
Errigo added that she changed her tactics from attacking earlier in the day, which led to quick victories, to patience and counterattack in the hope that her opponent would miss.
“It is better not to attack her [Di Francisca],” she said.
After a mostly sleepless night fueled by adrenaline, a drained Vezzali said: “I won the bronze medal for the people of Italy. The people gave me energy in the stadium and this last match, for me, was a miracle match.”
It was a bitter pill for Nam, seeded No. 1 coming into the competition, as she lost to Vezzali in Beijing to take silver and was shut out of a medals again by the Italian.