When no. 1-ranked Valentina Vezzali faced off against No. 2 Giovanna Trillini in the women's individual foil final last week, they weren't merely dueling for gold. They were fighting for the title of top fencer in Jesi, the small Italian town where both grew up. And since Jesi has dominated the sport for more than a decade, being best in town right now means being best in the world.
Before Athens, Trillini had won four Olympic golds (three team, one individual) and Vezzali had won three (two team, one individual). On the morning of their duel, held in Helliniko on the sun-kissed coast south of Athens, "I cried because of the stress," Vezzali told reporters after the contest. "I didn't think of the gold at all." Trillini, a thoughtful and intense fencer, gained an early lead, scoring the only hit of the first round. But the energetic and effusive Vezzali surged back, parrying with increasing confidence and dazzling speed. At the start of the final round, the score was tied at 6-6. That's when Vezzali amped up her attack, scoring three straight points and quashing any hope Trillini had for a comeback. When it was over, Vezzali had beat her crosstown rival 15-11. "We have a great tradition in foil and we are maintaining it [in] the best way possible," said Vezzali, whom many rate as the greatest female fencer ever after her win. Trillini was disappointed but philosophical: "Win and loss is part of the same game. Both can happen."
Neither woman has committed to the 2008 Games in Beijing. Vezzali plans to have a baby, while Trillini wants to spend time with her family. If they do retire, watch for new Italian fencing stars in four years' time. "The Italian youngsters adore fencing," Vezzali said. "And they have [many] opportunities to increase their talent because as Italians we have a special kind of imagination." Especially in Jesi.