July 31, 2021

By Sakura Murakami

TOKYO (Reuters) -Russia’s women fencers won their second consecutive Olympic gold medal in the team sabre event on Saturday, beating France 45-41 in a tense final.

France refused to hand an easy win to the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), at times closing the gap rapidly as the two teams chased each other across the piste, swiping and jabbing.

In the last bout, France’s Cecilia Berder won three points in rapid succession with ROC one point away from victory. But it was Russian Olga Nikitina who scored the last point, prompting her team mates to run onto the piste, piling on top of her and screaming with joy.

The top-ranked ROC team counts individual silver medallist and four-time Olympian Sofya Velikaya, as well as gold medallist Sofia Pozdniakova among its members.

“They are (the) future stars and future of fencing,” Velikaya said of her more junior team mates with the gold medal hanging from her neck.

She added that the new generation of fencers had a grit and faith that she had not seen before, making them capable of doing “what they want, for (the) team and for victory.”

While France lost out on a gold medal, the silver marks the first ever medal in the women’s sabre team event in French fencing history.

“It’s just magic,” France’s Charlotte Lembach said of the landmark medal. “They won the match… but next time it will be us,” she added, setting her sights on Paris 2024.

South Korea won the bronze medal bout against Italy, placing third.

Russian athletes are competing under the ROC flag at the Tokyo Olympics as part of sanctions for several doping scandals.

Tokyo 2020 marks the third time that the women’s team sabre fencing competition is being held at the Olympics. The first gold medal of the event went to Ukraine in 2008, and the second to Russia at Rio 2016. Ukraine failed to qualify for Tokyo 2020.

(Reporting by Sakura Murakami; Editing by Karishma Singh, Muralikumar Anantharaman and Hugh Lawson)