The customarily weak Ameri can fencers were not expected to carve "Zs" across the chests of the opposing duelists in the Los Angeles Olympic Games, although New York's Peter Westbrook did slash his way to a surprising bronze medal in the saber event.
But one legacy of the 1984 Games was that Americans made a favorable impression on the international fencing community--mainly with its elegant staging of the eight nights of finals at the Long Beach Terrace Theater, where all officials dressed in formal wear.
"Everybody still talks about the fact that it was black tie," said Jan Romary of Los Angeles, the 10-time U.S. women's foil champion who served as fencing commissioner for the Olympics here. Added Carl Borack of Beverly Hills, executive vice president of the U.S. Fencing Assn., "It was a beautiful show that set the standards for future Olympics."
Beyond the impressive staging, moreover, the successful handling of the tournament may have brought greater respect for American fencing officials from International Fencing Federation officials, most of whom are European.
"Four Americans were added to international fencing federation committees recently, whereas we usually get only one or two," said Carla-Mae Richards, USFA executive secretary.
The intangible element of "respect" is important in international competition, because bout directors judge valid points and tournament officials have to resolve disputes. The coaches and athletes of fencing-strong countries can already command the respect that might mean the edge in winning.
In international bouts since the Olympic Games, the Eastern Europeans, led by Vasil Etropolski of Bulgaria, have resumed their domination of the saber events in World Cup tournaments. Olympic gold medalist Jean-Francois Lamour of France had a poor season, hampered by two operations. Westbrook missed the eight-man finals of both tournaments he entered.
Olympic men's foil winner Mauro Numa of Italy, however, was No. 1 in World Cup standings near the end of the season and silver medalist Matthias Behr was running third. Five-time world champion Vladimir Romankov, never an Olympic champion, was just behind Behr in points.
In the less-predictable men's epee competitions, fencers from Poland, Italy and West Germany had run up the highest point totals in World Cup tournaments. The gold medal winner in Long Beach, Phillipe Boise of France, ranked 14th.
Women's foil competition has been relatively open this year, because Luan Jujie did not go to Europe to compete, silver medalist Cornelia Hanisch retired after the Olympics and Italy's Dorina Vaccaroni, who finished a disappointing third at the Olympics, slid to 11th in World Cup standings this season. Jumping into the breach was Laurence Modaine of France, a finalist in Long Beach, to lead the women fencers.