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Olympics: Hablützel-Bürki wins fencing silver medal

Gianna Hablützel-Bürki (left) on the podium with gold medallist Timea Nagy (centre) and third-placed Laura Flessel-Colovic Keystone

Switzerland has won its third Olympic medal thanks to the fencing skills of Gianna Hablützel-Bürki. The 30-year-old épéeist from Basel exceeded all expectations to take the silver before losing 15-11 in the final to Hungary's Timea Nagy.

Hablützlel-Bürki, who finished in the final sixteen at the last Olympics in Atlanta, had to negotiate a tricky draw in Sydney just to make it into the semi-finals.

After beating Cuba’s Mirayda Garcia in her first bout, the Swiss fencer came up against the world number one, Ildiko Mincza of Hungary. Hablützel-Bürki’s stunning 15-9 win was the first indication that something special could be on the cards.

After a single point win over another Cuban, Zuleydis Ortiz, in the quarter-finals, Hablützel-Bürki fought a gripping bout against Russia’s Tatiana Logounova.

With the two women tied at 12-12 when the regulation nine minutes expired, the bout entered into sudden death. Hablützel-Bürki had already won the pre-bout draw to determine who would win if no-one scored in the extra minute, so the pressure was on her opponent to attack.

Sure enough, it was Logounova who made the first lunge, thrusting the tip of her sword at Hablützel-Bürki’s outstretched foot. But the Swiss fencer leapt back before successfully launching her own counter-attack.

Hablützel-Bürki was now guaranteed at least a silver medal, going into the final against Hungary’s Timea Nagy. Swiss hopes of a gold medal seemed strong though as Hablützel-Bürki finished the first segment with a 6-3 lead.

Her opponent fought back in the second segment however, to level the scores at 7-7. Then in the final segment, the Hungarian took a decisive lead.

With Nagy up by two points, Hablützel-Bürki was forced to go on the offensive. But her opponent counter-attacked effectively to secure a 15-11 victory with five seconds of regulation time remaining.

Despite the initial disappointment at losing out on the gold, Hablützel-Bürki was soon smiling as her colleagues in the Swiss fencing team piled around her to celebrate the silver. Diana Romagnoli and Sophie Lamon had also been involved in the individual competition, both going out in the last sixteen.

Hablützel-Bürki’s individual medal, Switzerland’s first in fencing since Oswald Zappelli’s bronze in 1952, will be seen as a bonus by the Swiss delegation who came to Sydney with higher expectations for the team event.

In previous Olympics, Switzerland’s fencing success has been all-male. Now, after becoming the first Swiss woman to win a medal in the sport, Hablützel-Bürki will be aiming for a place on the Olympic podium with Romagnoli and Lamon when the team event gets underway on Tuesday.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR