PTI | ByBarney Spender (Reuters), Athens
Aug 31, 2004 08:19 PM IST

Aldo Montano led Italy to the top of the medals table in the fencing tournament, although with 30 trophies there were plenty of winners at the Athens Games.

Aldo Montano led Italy to the top of the medals table in the Olympic fencing tournament, although with 30 trophies handed out over the nine days there were plenty of winners at the Athens Games.

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Montano went one better than his father and grandfather, who both won Olympic silver, by taking gold in the individual sabre as well as silver in the team event.

He also proved to be the most compelling of all fencers, both on and off the piste, at a Games where a judging error, transparent masks and the courage of Damien Touya also made their mark.

Italy won seven medals, three of them gold, to pip the French, with six medals, as the team of the tournament.

Jesi, the small town of 40,000 people near Ancona was split when its two favourite daughters Giovanna Trillini, the 1992 champion, and Valentina Vezzali fought in the final of the women's foil.

Vezzali, the champion in Sydney, retained her title and then declared she was off to have a baby.

Frenchman Touya's decision to fight on after taking a blade through his hand was brave enough.

To do it with the scores locked 44-44 in the team sabre semi-final against the US was genuine courage and he topped even that by coming from behind to win the final for France.

The US also had a good Games, picking up their first gold for 100 years while the Chinese looked to be quietly preparing to dominate in Beijing.

The overdue arrival of the women's sabre was a great innovation with the American Mariel Zagunis becoming the first champion just two months after leaving school.

The introduction of transparent masks into the sabre event was an unqualified success, getting a good response from television and should now be used for foil and epee in Beijing.

The referees were coping quite well in a complex world of flashing lights and rights of way until the team foil when Italy benefited from six wrong calls to deprive the Chinese of gold.

Hungarian referee Joszef Hidasi was subsequently expelled from the Games and suspended for two years.

The white light, which tells the referee that nobody has scored in the foil, made its last appearance at the Games before its axing next year.

There was also frustration and disappointment for Frenchwoman Laura Flessel-Colovic as she failed to repeat her double-gold success of Atlanta and had to settle for silver and bronze.

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