Showing posts with label Fencing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fencing. Show all posts

9 June 2022

Nedo Nadi - Olympic record-breaker

Five-medal haul at 1920 Antwerp Games included unique treble

Nedo Nadi at the age of 18, when he won his first gold
Nedo Nadi at the age of 18,
when he won his first gold
Nedo Nadi, the Italian fencer regarded as among the greatest of all time, was born on this day in 1894 in Livorno, the port on the Tuscan coast.

Born into a fencing family - his father, Giusepppe, was a renowned fencing master - Nadi won five gold medals at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, which remained the most by any athlete at a single Games until Mark Spitz won seven swimming titles.

Nadi’s own distinction is that he was and still is the only fencer to have won a gold medal with all three weapons, winning the individual championship in both foil and sabre and a team gold in the épée.

His quintuple of medals was completed with team golds in both the sabre and foil.  His younger brother, Aldo, was also part of the winning Italian team in the épée and sabre events.  Their total of seven golds is the most won by members of the same family at a single Games. 

Nedo’s historic achievement might never have happened if his father had had his way. Giuseppe believed the épée to be a “crude and undisciplined" weapon and refused to teach it, limiting the two brothers’ tuition to foil and sabre, to which they were introduced as children. Nedo had his first fencing lesson with a foil at the age of seven in his father’s gymnasium at Livorno. 

Giuseppe’s objected to épée because he felt it was too easy to score points and required less skill. In foil, a fencer could only score off a hit which landed on the trunk of the opponent’s body; in the sabre, only the upper torso and face mask count as scoring hits. But with épée, a hit landed on any part of the body is legitimate.

Nadi's Antwerp medal haul, as  commemorates in a Panini sticker
Nadi's Antwerp medal haul, as 
commemorates in a Panini sticker
But he and Aldo knew their opportunities would be more limited if they confined themselves to foil and sabre and decided to educate themselves in the épée discipline, practising together. It paid off, Nedo winning a solid silver trophy for his three-weapon work during the Jubilee celebration of Emperor Franz Joseph in Vienna at the age of just 14.

Nedo entered his first Olympics at the age of 18, winning the gold medal in individual foil at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912.

The First World War meant there was no Olympics in 1916. Nedo joined the Italian Army and was decorated for his bravery.

When the Olympics resumed in Antwerp in 1920, Nedo was chosen as flag bearer of the Italian team and captain of the Italian fencing team. He owed his long list of successes in part to the absence of Hungary, who were traditionally strong in the fencing events but who did not take part, along with Russia and other central European countries who had been on the losing side in the war.

Nedo Nadi's talent was to combine perfect balance, timing and rapid reflexes, qualities which served him well in all the disciplines. He would probably have won the individual épée title in Antwerp had a stomach problem not forced him to withdraw.

Antwerp would be his last Olympics. He made the bold decision to turn professional, taking a job as coach at the Buenos Aires Jockey Club, an exclusive sporting institution in Argentina, although in the event he was reinstated as an amateur on his return to Italy.

Nedo (right) in action against brother Aldo in Cannes in 1935
Nedo (right) in action against
brother Aldo in Cannes in 1935
After retiring from competition in 1932, he was made president of the Italian Fencing Federation in 1935 and was appointed coach of the Italian team at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin at the invitation of Benito Mussolini himself.  The team did well, coming home with four golds, three silver and two bronze medals, including a clean sweep in the individual épée competitions.

Sadly, Nedo Nadi died prematurely at the age of 45, suffering a stroke from which he never recovered. He was laid to rest in Portofino, the exclusive resort on the Ligurian coast. 

Five years before Nedo died, his brother Aldo had moved to the United States, where he taught fencing first in New York and later in Los Angeles, occasionally coaching actors for fencing scenes in films. He even appeared in a film himself, portraying a bodyguard in the 1944 movie To Have and Have Not, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.


The History of the Olympic Games: Faster, Higher, Stronger

Livorno's Venezia Nuova quarter is famed for its network of canals
Livorno's Venezia Nuova quarter is famed
for its network of canals
Travel tip:

The port of Livorno, where Nedo Nadi was born, is the second largest city in Tuscany after Florence yet is often overlooked by visitors, many of whom arrive by cruise ship and travel on to Florence, Siena or other destinations. Yet Livorno has plenty to recommend it as a destination in itself. Built during the Renaissance with Medici money as an “ideal town”, it became an important free port, and until the middle of the 19th century was one of the most multicultural cities in Italy thanks to an influx of residents from all round the world who arrived on foreign trading ships. Visitors to Livorno today can sample some of Italy’s best seafood restaurants, enjoy the elegance of the Terrazza Mascagni on the waterfront and the quirky charms of Venezia Nuova, a former commercial district criss-crossed with canals. 

Hotels in Livorno by

The picturesque fishing village of Portofino has been a tourist destination since the late 19th century
The picturesque fishing village of Portofino has been
a tourist destination since the late 19th century
Travel tip:

Portofino is an Italian fishing village and holiday resort famous for its picturesque harbour and historical association with celebrity visitors. Situated about 40km (25 miles) east of Genoa on the section of the Liguria coastline known as the Italian Riviera, it is known for the colourful buildings that line the small harbour.  The village dates back at least until the early part of the first century, when the Roman author and philosopher Pliny the Elder, who was also a naval commander, made reference to Portus Delphini, the Port of the Dolphi. It began to develop as a tourist destination in the late 19th century, when British and other Northern European aristocratic tourists were enticed by its charms, despite access being mainly by horse and cart nearby from Santa Margherita Ligure. As road links improved, some settled and built expensive holiday houses. By the 1950s, tourism had replaced fishing as the town's chief industry. Restaurants and cafés abound on the waterfront.

Stay in Portofino with 

Also on this day:

68: The death of Roman emperor Nero

1311: Duccio di Buoninsegna’s alterpiece The Maestà of Duccio is unveiled at the cathedral of Siena

1762: The birth of architect Luigi Cagnola

1898: The birth of racing driver Luigi Fagioli


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 


8 February 2019

Italo Santelli - fencer

Olympic medallist famous for real ‘duel’

Italo Santelli set new standards for sabre fencing with his own technique
Italo Santelli set new standards for
sabre fencing with his own technique
The Olympic fencer Italo Santelli, who famously fought a duel with his former team captain over a matter of honour, died on this day in 1945 in Livorno, Tuscany.

Santelli won a silver medal at the 1900 Olympics in Paris with a new style of sabre fencing of his own invention. Originally from Carrodano in Liguria, he fought for Italy but spent a large part of his career coaching Hungary, who he helped become a formidable power in fencing.

It was this conflict of interests that sparked an incident at the 1924 Olympics, also in Paris, that led to Santelli and Adolfo Cotronei, who was Italy’s team captain, engaging in the infamous duel.

It happened during a match between the Italians and the host nation France in the team foil event when Italy’s Aldo Boni was facing off against Lucien Gaudin. With the match tied at four touches each, the Hungarian judge György Kovacs awarded the winning fifth touch to Gaudin, a decision that sparked immediate consternation in the Italian ranks.

Boni rounded on Kovacs, delivering a verbal tirade. But it was in Italian - beyond the official’s comprehension. It just happened that Santelli, in his capacity as Hungary’s coach, witnessed the whole dispute and was asked to step in as interpreter.

Santelli’s translation did not reflect well on Boni, who was asked to apologise for insulting Kovacs. When he refused, Italy were disqualified and the event ended with France winning the gold, with Belgium taking silver and Hungary the bronze.

Italo Santelli, left, in action at the Paris Olympics of 1900, in which he won a silver medal in the sabre event
Italo Santelli, left, in action at the Paris Olympics of 1900,
in which he won a silver medal in the sabre event
That seemed to be the end of the matter until, on the team’s return to Italy, the captain Cotronei, who was also a journalist, wrote an article in which he alleged that Santelli had deliberately portrayed Boni as the villain on the basis that if the Italians were eliminated, his own Hungary team would have a better chance of finishing in a medal position.

Santelli was outraged but the bullish Cotronei stood by his article and, although accounts vary as to who challenged whom, it was somehow agreed that the two would engage in a duel, a dispute-settling method that had been outlawed in many other parts of the western world but was still part of Italian culture even in the early part of the 20th century. Legislation was being drawn up to ban the practice in Italy - driven by Benito Mussolini, then still Prime Minister rather than dictator - but special dispensation was obtained to allow this one to go ahead.

Thus the the stage was set for a date in August for the two to face each other with sabres in the town of Abbazia, a town about 70km (43 miles) southeast of Trieste that later became Opatija in Croatia but was then on Italian soil.

In the event, Cotronei had to take on not Italo Santelli but his son, Giorgio, another fencer, who had invoked a rule under the 18th century Code Duello that allowed him to substitute for his father, who was keen to defend his honour but was by then in his 61st year.

It was at the 1924 Olympics, again in Paris, that Santelli became embroiled in a dispute between the Italian team and an official
It was at the 1924 Olympics, again in Paris, that Santelli became
embroiled in a dispute between the Italian team and an official
It was not a fight to the death, thankfully, but blood needed to be drawn for a winner to be declared.  Within only a couple of minutes, the nimbler and more agile Santelli junior had inflicted a cut to Cotronei’s face and the duel was over.

Italo Santelli had been educated at the Scuola Magistrale Militare, a military school in Rome, but in 1896 decided to move to Budapest together with brother Otello, also a fencer, and his wife. Their son, Giorgio, was born in Hungary in 1897, although he kept his Italian citizenship and ultimately emigrated to the United States,

It was while working in Hungary that he developed the new style of sabre fencing, involving a much quicker defence than the classical style. It became known as the "modern style" or the “Santelli style” and historians of the sport sometimes refer to Santelli as “the father of modern sabre fencing.”

Although Cotronei was known for his temper - he fought at least six duels in his lifetime - he and Santelli were said to have been reconciled when they met again at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles and subsequently became friends.

The Abbey Church of Santa Maria Assunta, built from Carrara marble, is one of La Spezia's attractions
The Abbey Church of Santa Maria Assunta, built from
Carrara marble, is one of La Spezia's attractions
Travel tip:

Santelli’s home village of Carrodano is in the province of La Spezia, a port city of 94,000 inhabitants and Liguria’s second city after Genoa. The home of Italy’s largest naval base and a major commercial port, tucked away in a sheltered gulf, La Spezia is so close to the ruggedly beautiful stretch of coastline known as the Cinque Terre, not to mention the picturesque fishing village of Portovenere, that it tends not to be regarded as a tourist attraction. Yet La Spezia has an atmospheric historic centre of narrow streets, not to mention the recently restored 17th century castle and the impressive black and white Carrara marble of the Abbey Church of Santa Maria Assunta.

One of the canals in Livorno's Venetian quarter
Travel tip:

Santelli spent his final days in another of Italy’s northern Mediterranean port cities, Livorno. The second population area in Tuscany after Florence, Livorno has a population of almost 160,000. Although it is a large commercial port with much related industry, it has many attractions, including an elegant sea front – the Terrazza Mascagni - and an historic centre – the Venetian quarter – with canals, and a tradition of serving excellent seafood.  The Terrazza Mascagni is named after the composer Pietro Mascagni, famous for the opera Cavalleria Rusticana, who was born in Livorno.

More reading:

Valentina Vezzali, the fencer who is Italy's most successful athlete

How Luigi Baccali brought home Italy's first Olympic track gold

Ottavio Missoni: From Olympic hurdler to fashion designer

Also on this day:

1591: The birth of Baroque master Guercino

1751: The death of Trevi Fountain architect Nicola Salvi

1848: Padua revolts against the Austrians

(Picture credits: La Spezia church by Davide Papalini; Livorno canal by Daniel Ventura; via Wikimedia Commons)


14 February 2018

Valentina Vezzali – fencer

Police officer is Italy’s most successful female athlete

Valentina Vezzali won nine Olympic medals, including six golds, making her one of fencing's all-time greats
Valentina Vezzali won nine Olympic medals, including six
golds, making her one of fencing's all-time greats
The fencer Valentina Vezzali, whose three Olympic and six World Championship individual gold medals make her Italy’s most decorated female athlete of all time, was born on this day in 1974 in the town of Iesi in Marche.

The 44-year-old police officer, who also sits in the Italian Chamber of Deputies as a representative for Marche, retired from competition after the 2016 World Championships.

Her haul of six Olympics golds in total – three individual and three from the team event – has not been bettered by any Italian athlete, male or female.

Two other Italian fencers from different eras – Edoardo Mangiarotti and Nedo Nadi – also finished their careers with six golds. Fencing has far and away been Italy’s most successful Olympic discipline, accruing 49 gold medals and 125 medals in total, more than twice the number for any other sport.

Alongside the German shooter Ralf Schumann, the Slovak slalom canoeist Michal Martikán and the Japanese judo player Ryoko Tani, Vezzali is one of only four athletes in the history of the Summer Olympics to have won five medals in the same individual event.

Valentina Vezzali sits in the Italian Chamber of Deputies
Valentina Vezzali sits in the
Italian Chamber of Deputies
She is married to the former professional footballer Domenico Giugliano, with whom she has two sons, 12-year-old Pietro and four-year-old Andrea, who was born in May 2013. A few months earlier, Valentina having won her final Olympic gold in the team event at London 2012, where she was also the Italian flag bearer at the opening ceremony.

Born into a family originally from Emilia-Romagna – her father was from Correggio and her mother from Quattro Castella – she grew up in Iesi in the province of Ancona and took up fencing when she was just six years old.

By the time she made her Olympic debut at the Atlanta Games of 1996, Vezzali had already achieved an impressive collection of medals, including a string of golds in junior European and World Championships and her first senior gold, in the team event at the 1995 World Championships.

Her Olympic success story began immediately with team gold and individual silver in Atlanta.  She achieved double gold at the Sydney Games of 2000, defending her individual title successfully in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008, which made her the only fencer in Olympic history to win individual gold at three consecutive Games.

In addition her nine Olympic medals won, including a silver and two bronze, at the World Championships Vezzali won 15 gold medals (6 individual and 9 teams), five silver and four bronze, plus 13 European championship golds, four silver and four bronze.

Vezzali with her team gold medal at the  2014 World Championships
Vezzali with her team gold medal at the
2014 World Championships
Vezzali won fencing’s World Cup 11 times, running up a record 67 match victories. She also numbered two golds at the Mediterranean Games, four at the Universiade and 20 Italian titles (11 individual and 9 teams).  The Italian sports newspaper, Gazzetta dello Sport, made her their Italian sportswoman of the year on six occasions.

Since joining the Polizia di Stato – the municipal police force - in which she has risen to the rank of superintendent, Vezzali has competed for the Fiamme Oro, the police sports team.

She had hoped to compete in a sixth Olympics in Rio di Janeiro in 2016 but failed to qualify for the individual competition, while the Games on this occasion did not include a team event.

A celebrity in Italy – she participated in the 2009 series of Ballando con le Stelle (Dancing with the Stars), the Italian version of the hit UK show Strictly Come Dancing – she launched her political career with the 2013 general election, winning a seat in the Chamber of Deputies.

Campaigning on issues that included sport and physical education, health and nutrition and women’s rights, she was elected under the banner of Scelta Civica (Civic Choice), the centrist party founded by former prime minister Mario Monti, although she has since distanced herself from the party over their decision to support Silvio Berlusconi’s more right-leaning Forza Italia at this year’s elections.

The Palazzo Pianetti is one of a number of impressive palaces in Iesi
The Palazzo Pianetti in Iesi
Travel tip:

Situated about 20km (12 miles) inland from the Adriatic coast, Vezzali’s home town of Iesi is impressive for the massive walls that surround its medieval centre, which is built on Roman foundations on a ridge overlooking the valley of the Esino river. The centre of the town is the attractive Piazza Federico II, where a regular market is held, and there are a number of interesting palaces, towers and churches, including a Romanesque-Gothic cathedral.

A porticoed street in Correggio
A porticoed street in Correggio
Travel tip:

The small town of Correggio, where Vezzali’s family originated, can be found in the Po valley, about 20km (12 miles) northeast of Reggio Emilia.  An interesting town full of history, it is thought to have developed around an 11th century castle. Although the original walls were demolished as the town expanded, much of the medieval centre remains. The town was the home of the Renaissance artist Antonio Allegri, also known as Correggio, to whom a monument was created by the sculptor Vincenzo Vela in Piazza Quirino.