In sweeping the gold, silver and bronze medals in the women's foil last Thursday, Anja Fichtel, Sabine Bau and Zita Funkenhauser of West Germany all but etched F.R.G. on their opponents' vests. In the process, they turned the finals into just another nightly tournament at Tauberbischofsheim, the fencing club in their hometown of the same name.
It was the first medal sweep ever, in any sport, for the Federal Republic of Germany, and it more than compensated for the disappointing showing of the West German men fencers, who were shut out of medals in the foil (won by Stefano Cerioni of Italy) and the saber (Jean-Fran‚Äö√†√∂‚àö√ºois Lamour of France). Arnd Schmitt of West Germany did win the èpèe. In the 1976 and '84 Olympics (the F.R.G. boycotted in '80) the Tauberbischofsheim club, run by 53-year-old Emil Beck, a squat, balding, autocratic ex-barber, provided West Germany with 12 golds and 11 silvers. Not a bad haul for a town of 12,000.
Fichtel, Bau and Funkenhauser are comely and gentle-looking when they doff their masks. But on the piste (the strip of metallic mesh on which fencers compete) they are aggressive and almost fearsome. That is the way with Beck's pupils. They attack when attacked, and in doing so they have forever altered the sport. "Before, fencing was all technique, and no athletic skills were used," said Beck. "We started our athletes on sprint training and weight training, and brought in the athletic element."
Fichtel, 20, a world champion at 18, was once thought distant and even mean, but her opponents say she has changed. "Once she established herself, she loosened up," said Sharon Monplaisir, the current U.S. champion. In assessing Fichtel's personality Beck establishes a new Olympic record for male chauvinism: "On one side she is very easy and fun. On the other side she is very difficult. A typical woman."
October 2, 1988
Bau, a 19-year-old aspiring veterinarian, was the West German national team champion this year. "She is very intelligent," says Beck. "Maybe too intelligent for a woman." Yes, Beck has just surpassed his own Olympic record. Funkenhauser, a 22-year-old dental student, was born in Romania, but she moved to Tauberbischofsheim when she was 13. "She is the strongest of the three," says Beck, passing up an opportunity to better his mark.
Fichtel had a fairly easy time advancing to the final, defeating Sun Hongyun of China 8-4 and Zsuzsanna Janosi of Hungary 8-5. Bau and Funkenhauser met in the semifinals, and Bau won convincingly, 8-3.
The best match of the night was for the bronze, Funkenhauser versus Janosi, an emotional actress with Rapunzel-like blonde tresses. After most of Funkenhauser's hits, Janosi yelped and pouted and threw little tantrums. At one point, she had to be talked into continuing the match. When she finally lost, 8-7, Janosi stomped off to a corner and refused to shake her opponent's hand.
In the final, Fichtel bettered Bau 8-5. Afterward, the men and women of the West German team tossed Fichtel in the air. The three women giggled through their press conference, and one could hardly tell who had the gold, who had the silver and who had the bronze. They were damsels by Dumas. All for one and one for all. The three musketettes.