17 May 2021

Giovanna Trillini - fencing champion

Four-times Olympic champion in foil

Giovanna Trillini won eight
Olympic medals, including four golds
The Olympic fencing champion Giovanna Trillini, one of Italy’s most successful female athletes, was born on this day in 1970 in Jesi, a medieval town in the Marche region.

Trillini won the individual gold medal in the foil event at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and was part of Italy’s gold-medal winning group in the team foil at Barcelona in 1992 as well as at Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000.

She competed at five consecutive summer Olympics between 1996 and 2008 and her total medal haul of eight, including one silver and two bronze medals in the individual foil, makes her Italy’s fifth most successful Olympian and the third most successful female competitor.

After winning individual gold in Barcelona, she was honoured by being asked to be the flag bearer for the azzurri team at the opening ceremony for the Games in Atlanta four years later.

Trillini’s career also encompassed 19 medals in world championship events, including nine golds, and six in the European championships.

Born into a sporting family, Trillini was encouraged to take up fencing by her two brothers, Ezio and Roberto, who were both regular competitors in the sport, in which Italy has a long tradition.

She studied at the University of Urbino, graduating in Sports Science, and developed her fencing skills under the master fencer Ezio Triccoli, another native of Jesi, who set up the Club Scherma Jesi in 1947, in order to teach the art he had learned from a British army officer while he was a prisoner of war during World War II.

Trillini on the medal podium after her triumph in Barcelona in 1992
Trillini on the medal podium after
her triumph in Barcelona in 1992
Triccoli, who died in 1996 at the age of 81, was responsible for training numerous champions, including Trillini’s close rival and team-mate, Valentina Vezzali, who was also born in Jesi.

Vezzali won gold in the individual foil at three consecutive games, in 2000, 2004 and 2008. Between them, Trillini and Vezzali dominated the foil scene throughout the 90s and 2000s. Only Vezzali, with six golds, has been more successful than Trillini in terms of Olympic medals.

Trillini won the foil competition at the fencing World Cup four times, in 1991, 1994. 1995 and 1998, but undoubtedly would have been champion on many more occasions but for the presence of Vezzali, four years’ her junior, to whom she was runner-up no fewer than seven times.

At the age of 38, Trillini was a beaten semi-finalist in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, losing 15-10 to Nyam Hyun-Hee of Korea, who went on to lose to Veazzali in the final. She lost to another Italian, Margherita Granbassi, in the third-place final, before announcing her immediate retirement from the sport, claiming that her performance against her opponent in the semi-final had been deliberately undermarked to prevent an all-Italian final.

She made a comeback in 2010 but retired again two years later after failing to reach pre-2008 levels in her performance.

Fencing, which dates back to the Renaissance era in Italy, is a sport in which Italians have enjoyed success throughout the history of the Olympics. 

Seven of Italy’s top 10 Olympians in terms of medals won have been fencers, while no nation has won more gold medals in fencing than Italy, with 49 to date.

It remains Italy’s most successful Olympic sport in all disciplines. The next best in terms of gold medals won is cycling with 33, followed by athletics with 19.

The city of Jesi has well preserved walls built along the lines of its Roman defence
The city of Jesi has well preserved walls
built along the lines of its Roman defences
Travel tip:

Jesi, alternatively spelled Iesi, which was the site of a settlement in the fourth century BC, has developed as an industrial centre but maintains its cultural heritage within perfectly preserved medieval walls, built along the lines of its old Roman defences between the 13th and 14th centuries.  Notable buildings include the Cathedral of San Settimio in Piazza Federico II, the nearby 12th century church of San Floriano, which once contained paintings by Lorenzo Lotto that are now housed in the Pinacoteca Civica.  The Teatro Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, named in honour of the 18th century musician and composer who was born in Jesi, stands in the elegant Piazza della Repubblica.

The Renaissance Palazzo Ducale in Pesaro, one of many attractions away from the beach
The Renaissance Palazzo Ducale in Pesaro, one
of many attractions away from the beach
Travel tip:

Jesi is in the northern part of the Marche region, only 25km (16 miles) from the Adriatic coast and the stretch between Ancona and Pesaro that includes Senigallia and Fano. Like many Italian coastal resorts, the towns and cities in the area popular for their wide expanses of sandy beach also have much history to commend them. Fano, for example, revels in its Roman past, having been established in 49BC by Julius Caesar in 49 BC, when it was named Fanum Fortunae. Caesar Augustus protected the city with monumental walls and the Arco d'Augustus, the primary gateway into the city, still remains, along with some sections of the walls.  Pesaro, which is the region’s second largest city with 94,000 residents, is another magnet for sun-seekers but also boasts a city centre criss-crossed with narrow, medieval streets, several pretty squares and a number of beautiful Renaissance palaces.

Also on this day:

1500: The birth of Federico II Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua

1510: The death of Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli

1963: The birth of motorcycle world champion Luca Cadalora 


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