What Does an Olympic Gold Medal in Fencing Mean?

Marial Zagunis celebrates her gold medal in Athens. Photo: Andreas Rentz

Though we’re all very much familiar with the competition and the ceremony surrounding the Summer Olympics, and though most of us in the fencing community know a great deal about the kind of dedication and hard work that it takes to get to those high level competitions, what we don’t so often understand is what the whole thing means, because the meaning goes far beyond what many of us imagine.

The Worth of a Olympic Gold Medal

My kids have often asked me how much a gold medal is worth, as in the real monetary treasure of the thing, like it were some pirate’s booty. So I finally did go dig up the number, by current standards (as in August 2016), the Gold Medals that will be handed out in Rio are made with only about six grams of gold that’s worth a little over two hundred and fifty dollars at today’s prices. So really, not much.

However we all know that the worth of a Gold Medal has nothing to do with the amount of gold that’s in it. Gold is a medal that is pure, doesn’t react with other elements, shines even in the worst of times. Gold is precious, and that precious nature is reflected in the rarity and purity of an Olympic Gold Medalist. The gold of the Gold Medal represents something – it’s about something deeper and oh so much more incredible than simply a piece of metal.

What Gold Means to a Fencer

There’s really no way to quantify the incredible feeling that winning Olympic Gold means to a fencer who has been training for so many years to get here.

It most definitely signals to all of the people around them that this hard work was worth it and that they were worth it. While fencing has a proud history going back for hundreds of years, today we don’t show our skill and prowess on the field of battle, but rather on the strip. Winning gold is reaching the pinnacle of their sport.

The most cherished dream of any athlete (not just fencers) is  of course to win an Olympic Gold.  Athletes sacrifice a lot for this dream, oftentimes they putting  their entire carriers on hold to reach it.  It’s something that’s difficult to explain rationally, since oftentimes these athletes barely make ends meet, as you have to remember that in many places (like the United States), there isn’t full government funding for training and living expenses, leaving athletes to pursue sponsorships or community support to make it work.

But they are not only doing it for themselves. When we watch the games, we all become a part of them. The athletes are part of every nation they represent. It is a huge point of pride for us all when we hear our country anthem and see our flag, and so much moreso for an athlete who has been training for years to represent their country. They become heroes of their country, and sometimes of the entire world. An Olympic Gold Medal is a place in history. It’s more than just a piece of metal – it is a touchstone that resonates throughout the life of a fencer. Throughout the life of any athlete.

Life After an Olympic Gold Medal

What happens to fencers after they take home the gold? Most often they head home to dig in and keep training for the next competition, to master that next skill and get better. Unlike some other sports, fencers can compete at this level well into their 30’s, which means that there is indeed another chance at Olympic Gold on the horizon for many fencers.

Once the rings go away and everyone goes home, even Olympic Gold medalists end up going back to work and making a living. Many go on to run fencing schools to pass their knowledge along. Since so many elite fencers go to college, many of them have other careers to work on once that goal is obtained.  But that Gold Medal stays with them, a mark not only of an accomplishment that they once were able to achieve, but more importantly a mark of who they are as a person. They will forever be known as an Olympic Gold Medalist, a legacy that they can pass down to their students, their children, and their great grandchildren.

Olympic Gold for a fencer lasts for a lifetime, even if life does continue to go on off the strip.


Photo credit: Getty Images/Andreas Rentz