Christian d’Oriola is one of the most decorated athletes who occupy a rightful place among the world’s greatest fencers. At the age of 19 he walked away with two gold medals from a world fencing championship and subsequently won six Olympic medals, becoming one of the youngest Olympic champions of all time.
Christian d’Oriola was born on October 3, 1928, in the French town of Perpignan – a historical venue where fencing bouts had been taking place throughout the centuries. He was born to a provincial family of nobles who practiced wine growing. This remarkable foil fencer started practicing fencing at the age of 9, taught by his father in a cramped underground gym of the familial mansion. Early on he displayed exceptional abilities, and by the age of 15 his fencing mastery surpassed that of his peers, and he challenged older fencers. At the age of 18 he joined the French national fencing team, and by the time he left it he had every possible fencing decoration to his name.
A gifted lefty and incredibly nimble, this Catalonian possessed a classical masterly technique shaped by his coaches Burres and Elmer, which stood out for its unpredictability. He performed his impressive, lightning-speed attacks with elegance and ease. However, the modern D’Artagnan did not take well to the introduction of electrical foil fencing.*
Christian d’Oriola won four World Champion titles in individual foil events: in 1947 in Lisbon, in 1949 in Cairo, in 1953 in Brussels, and in 1954 in Luxembourg, and another four World Champion titles in team events: in 1947, 1951, 1953 and 1958. He won two Olympic gold medals in individual foil events (in 1952 in Helsinki and in 1956 in Melbourne) and an Olympic silver medal in 1948 in London. He also won three Olympic medals in team events: two gold medals in 1948 and 1952 and a silver medal in 1956. At the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome he was given the honor of carrying the flag of the French delegation. In Rome he finished 7th in the finals and ended his professional career at the age of 32.
The modern D’Artagnan, as he was dubbed by numerous opponents, competed on the fencing strip for nearly 30 years (from 1941 to 1970). After ending his sporting career, he settled in the town of Nimes, where he was decorated with the Legion of Honor Order in 1971.
*The electric foil was introduced in 1955. For some time Christian d’Oriola was a vociferous opponent of this introduction despite his masterly command of this new technique (translator’s note).
Author: Gerard Siks