It proved a triumphant time for the underdog in the men’s individual sabre on Sunday as Hungary’s Aron Szilagyi won gold after his path to the podium cleared with the early exit of the German and Russian top seeds.
Fifth seed Szilagyi beat 14th seed Diego Occhiuzzi of Italy 15-8, matching the outcome between the two countries when London hosted the 1948 Olympics.
Szilagyi, 22, took a commanding 7-0 lead before the end of the first period of regulation and never looked back. A silver for Occhiuzzi, viewed as Italy’s third man, was an unexpected triumph for the 31-year-old from Naples.
In 1948, Hungarian fencing great Aladar Gerevich, who won seven Olympic golds, beat Italian Vincenzo Pinton.
Szilagyi, who placed 15th in Beijing and took sixth in both last year’s and the 2010 world championships, beamed under the glare of the cameras.
“To be honest, I have never been part of a press conference room before. It feels great. I can say, I have never been as happy as when I stood up on the podium and took up this gold medal,” he told reporters after the ceremony at London’s Excel Centre.
On his way to the final, he ended the dreams of a repeat gold for China’s Beijing champion Zhong Man, who since his win four years ago has slid down the world standings and was seeded 21st.
An emotional Nikolay Kovalev of Russia won the bronze medal over Romanian Rares Dumitrescu, having already proved his mettle with a 15-12 victory over former world champion and top seed Nicolas Limbach of Germany.
Kovalev, 25, outshone his countryman and No. 2 seed Alexey Yakimenko, the European champion, who lost 15-14 to Daryl Homer of the US in the round-of-16. Homer placed sixth.
Kovalev, for a moment, kept alive the chance for Russia’s national coach, Frenchman Christian Bauer, to guide a third nation to individual gold in the men’s sabre.
“I told him to fence free, not to think about a [bronze] medal,” said Bauer, who coached Zhong to victory in Beijing and Italy’s Aldo Montano to the top spot in Athens.
Bauer attributed Yakimenko’s loss to mental factors, saying the fencer had made similar mistakes at last year’s world championships.
“In difficult matches he loses a little bit his mind,” Bauer said.
World champion Montano’s quest was cut short by his teammate Occhiuzzi in a 15-13 loss.
“It was always my dream. I was always thought of as the underdog, with only team medals to my name, but I knew I had the abilities and I just had a magical day,” Occhiuzzi said.
Montano, whose grandfather won silver in the team sabre in 1948, had said before the match that he was nursing a pulled groin muscle from the Italian championships in May.
In preparation for the Games, the Athens gold medal winner bleached his head with the words “God Save the Queen” in tribute to his family returning to London to compete.