Alexandra Zabelina is the first Soviet World Champion, the winner of three Olympic gold medals, twenty threey-fold USSR Champion. A miniature, graceful lady, reserved and reasonable in life, but venturous and unpredictable at the fencing strip, - that is the way she was remembered by the fans of Olympics in Rome, Mexico, Munich.
I used to meet Alexandra Zabelina on the fencing strip. Later we became colleagues, both working as coaches in fencing mastership school in Dynamo sports club. She was the girls’ coach and I was training the boys. Later she trained my daughter Ksenia, and I gave training lessons to her son. Surprisingly, Zabelina has never stressed out that she was the unique fencer in foils of the twentieth century. She never ceased to learn and to pick up new experience. She still comes to the fencing salle and puts on a fencing bib.
Her carrier was started back in the far fifties… Many years ago she occasionally came to the Dynamo club salle. Earlier in her childhood she was enthusiastically going in for gymnastics and even achieved the first success, but had to quit due to a trauma. Then a neighbour boy took her to his coach, R. I. Chernysheva, the Honoured Master of Sports in the fencing section of Dynamo sports club. Already at the third training session Raisa Ivanovna said: "Shurochka, you will be the World Champion." I think she said it on purpose of encouragement ("to wing a dream"). Later Zabelina has joined the group led by Ivan Ilyich Manayenko, where she was training together with her team-partners and friends, the future stars of national fencing G. Gorohova, V. Rastvorova, J. Rylsky, L. Romanov.
And then there came the year of 1957 – the World Championship in Paris. At that time fencing was held on a pool system with no knock-outs, and those who reached the final competitions, had to have up to 40 bouts per day. The foilers’ bouts where over after midnight, when only few spectators stayed in the fencing salle. The winner was Alexandra Zabelina, an unknown Soviet fencer. It was a sensation! The next day, the journalists and fans were looking for Zabelina in the fencing salle.
Rome, 1960. Alexander is participating in the Olympics for the first time. In general understanding, Olympic Games are accepted as festivities. Millions of people in the days of the Games hold their breath following the sports events by TV. Thousands of people are preparing for the major events of the four-year period, not only to the athletes and coaches, but to the designers and artists, singers and composers, architects and constructors among them. As to the athletes, their life during the Olympics is really special, as if it starts and ends here, and one has to live it with dignity. Zabelina had three Olympics: the 1960 in Rome, the 1968. in Mexico, and the 1972 in Munich. She has missed only Olympics in Tokyo in 1964, when she was expecting her son.
Three times she became an Olympic Champion in team competitions. The victory in an individual tournament is, no doubt, an honorary achievement, but in a command competitions one has sometimes tumble over oneself. The reason is, here you are not alone and are responsible not only for yourself but for your co-partners as well. Team tournament excludes any "but if…". Here one has to be prepared to fight with all his/her capability.
"If all three my Olympic Games are compared, the latter ones were the most difficult," A. Zabelina recalls. Before Munich, I had faced a global challenge to win the USSR championship. Only the gold medal at the Championship could open me the way to the Olympics. Hence, with the young athletes at my heels, I had to prove that I am stronger again and again. At the Olympics, there was a fascinating start and a tragic outcome. The events were very well organized, widely publicized and it looked nothing could go wrong in that perfect mechanism. However, everything was ruined by Palestinian terrorists, who captured the team of Israel. Unfortunately, the majority of hostages were killed in the counter-terrorist operation. A military regime was introduced in the Olympic Village.The women-athletes were relocated to the men’s hostel, there were tanks standing nearby, the streets of the villages were patrolled by militants. The Olympics were on the verge of collapse. We were waiting, and the competitions were postponed from day to day. I should say, our nerves were at the limit. That is why the victory at the Olympics in Munich is of a special value."
Source: Tatiana Kolchanova: "Fencing in Persons."