This is thanks in no small part to the exploits of its fencers, who stand third in the all-time Olympic medal table behind France and Italy.
And no one swordsman has contributed more to his country’s impressive medal tally than Aladar Gerevich. Selected on a list of 20 legendary Olympians compiled by CNN in 2011, Gerevich won 10 individual and team medals during an Olympic career that spanned six Games over an astonishing 28 years.
When a 22 year-old Gerevich competed for Hungary at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, he joined a squad who were already reigning sabre team gold medallists. The young fencer helped his compatriots to defend their title and went on to be a key member of a team that would dominate men’s fencing at the following five Olympics.
By the time that period of unprecedented success came to an end, at the Rome Olympics in 1960, Aladar Gerevich had collected the sabre team gold medal at six consecutive Games. Considering Hungary’s dominance over that period, it is not inconceivable to imagine that Gerevich’s own medal haul would have been even more impressive were it not for the Second World War, which forced the cancellation of the Olympics of 1940 and 1944.
As it is, the Hungarian’s feat of winning gold in the same event at six consecutive Games has never been equaled.
In terms of his personal performances, the highlight of Gerevich’s career came when he won the individual sabre gold medal in London in 1948. He dominated that year’s competition from start to finish and was beaten only once in 20 bouts. He eventually retired with the complete set of individual gold, silver and bronze medals in his possession.
Had it been left to his country’s sports authorities, that retirement might have arrived somewhat prematurely. Gerevich was told prior to the Rome Olympics that, at the age of 50, he was too old for selection. Legend has it that he challenged the rest of the national team to individual duels to prove that he could still compete. Having defeated every member of the team, the selectors backed down and Gerevich went on to win his sixth consecutive team title.
The 28 years that had elapsed between his first and last gold medals remained an Olympic record, until it was matched by New Zealand eventing rider Mark Todd in 2012. Although he no longer stands alone in that regard, it comes as no surprise that Gerevich’s unprecedented success and longevity at the very highest level have led to him being referred to in some quarters as the Pele of fencing.