OUFC at the Olympics

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OUFC & The Olympics

Fencing is one of just four sports to have featured at every modern Olympics. OUFC has played no small role in British involvement in the Games over the last 116 years, in keeping with the important place it has in the development of fencing more generally in Britain. Indeed, it was fitting to see that the elaborate programme printed for the Assault at Arms, given by the OUFC at the Clarendon Rooms on 23rd February 1892, was on display in the Fencing Spectator Zone at London 2012. The event was designed to attract people to the new sport of fencing and is the first record of the club.

OUFC’s involvement in London was not, however, limited to the ephemeral. Sophie Troiano represented Britain in the Women’s Individual and Team Foil events. A former Captain and President of the club, she managed to combine an intensive training programme with a job in the pharmaceutical industry, the only British fencer in the squad not to be training full time. In the individual event, Sophie was drawn against teammate Natalia Sheppard in the first round and despite a gutsy performance lost out 12-9. In the team event Britain defeated Egypt before losing out to eventual gold medallists Italy. Many members of the club also helped out with the organisation of the event as Gamesmakers.

London first hosted the Games in 1908 and this seems to mark the first involvement of OUFC fencers in the Olympics. Robert Montgomerie, a national foil and epee champion, was in the epee team which won a silver medal. He put rivalries aside to compete alongside Cecil Haig, who wore the wrong shade of blue! Another teammate was Thomas Scott-Ellis, 8th Baron Howard de Walden, who also competed in motorboat racing at the Games. An exhibition opens on 29th September at Chirk Castle, near Wrexham, on the life of de Walden. More information can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-east-wales-19054388 Montgomerie won a further silver medal in Stockholm in 1912 and was also in the Olympic foil and epee teams in 1920 and 1924.

Like London 2012, the Games in 1908 relied on the assistance of OUFC members. Theodore Cook, a founding member of the club, was one of three British representatives on the International Olympic Committee at the Games. Like Montgomerie, Cook competed alongside de Walden and travelled on the Baron’s yacht, the Brownen, to the 1906 fencing championships in Athens (the shortlived rival Olympics). In 1920 he won an Olympic medal – but not in fencing. His work ‘Olympic Games of Antwerp’ won silver medal in the literary catalogue in the arts competitions of the Olympics.

The 1920 and 1924 Games also saw the involvement of Philip G. Doyne (1886-1959), the former national foil champion from 1912 and 1920. The Paris Games of 1924 would, though, mark an end to OUFC’s involvement in the Games for some thirty years. This was reflective of wider changes in the sport which saw ever-increasing number of participating nations following the First World War and marked an end to British success.

OUFC played no small part in the revival of Britain’s fortunes in the late fifties and early sixties, thanks to the efforts of two former club captains: Allan Jay and Bill Hoskyns. Allan was a former world foil champion and runner-up in epee who competed in five Olympiads from 1952 to 1968. He won two silver medals in the individual and team epee events at Rome in 1960, having narrowly missed out on the medals at Melbourne in 1956.

Bill competed in six Olympiads, from Melbourne to Montreal in 1976, one of only five fencers to do so. He won a silver epee alongside Allan in the team epee event at Rome and clinched another silver at Tokyo in 1964 in the individual event. This is the last Olympic medal to have been won by a British fencer. At the 1956 and 1964 Games he competed in all three weapons.

In the same year that Bill won his medal in Tokyo, Nick Halsted became Captain of the club. Four years later, he competed in Mexico, representing Britain in the team foil, team epee and individual epee. Although Nick is sadly no longer with us, his son, Laurence, competed in the team foil competition in London and his wife Clare was in charge of the FIE Medical Delegation at the event.

The last connection between the club and the Olympics until 2012 seems to be from Moscow in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1984. Neal Mallett, a longstanding member of the club, competed in the team foil, team epee and individual epee across the two Games. Neal remains an invaluable source of advice for aspiring Olympians in the club.

OUFC has had a long and interesting Olympic history. It is testament to the strength of the club that many of its members have had the opportunity to compete at the pinnacle of the sport. If any reader knows of any other OUFC Olympic connections, however small, please do not hesitate to get in touch (Edmund.wareham@jesus.ox.ac.uk).

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