“I was the unlucky guy who was an Olympic medallist and had a bus accident. But I think it has opened a door."
With tickets for the London 2012 Paralympic Games now on sale, Hungarian Wheelchair Fencer Pal Szekeres said he could be eyeing his last Games at 48 years of age.
But he is certain to go down in the history books.
In fact, he already has.
As one of the favourites in the Wheelchair Fencing arena for London 2012, Szekeres is the only person to have ever medalled in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The six-time Paralympic Games medallist actually won bronze at the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games as a professional fencer before a bus accident in 1991. He was riding back to Hungary from a Fencing competition in Germany when he was injured in an accident and was sent to the hospital.
After recovering, Szekeres opted to attend a Wheelchair Fencing camp nearby where the German team was training for the European Championships. One of Germany’s coaches, a Hungarian, spoke with Szekeres’ doctor and persuaded him to allow his patient to compete in the Championships.
Next thing Szekeres knew, he had the gold medal draped around his neck.
Piece of cake.
And when he was released from the hospital, his outlook on life was no different than before.
“I was the unlucky guy who was an Olympic medallist and had a bus accident,” Szekeres said. “But I think it has opened a door.
“When I came back to Hungary, nobody came to me asking, ‘What happened to you?’ Rather, they said ‘Hi Pal. Congratulations. Good luck at the Barcelona Games.’”
Everyone automatically assumed Szekeres would be competing at the 1992 Paralympic Games.
And he certainly did not let them down, winning gold in the individual foil competition.
He picked up two more golds at the Atlanta 1996 Games and a bronze medal at each of the following three Games.
Now, as the father of three children and the husband of a fencer, Szekeres will be entering London 2012 as one of the ones to beat.
“Even though I will be 48, I will be very hard to beat. I promise you that,” he said.
While Szekeres has had the same coach since 1976, he noted that the level of competition has increased dramatically since he entered the Paralympic scene. He said much of this can be credited to the restructuring of the Soviet Union and the growth of Wheelchair Fencing programmes in Eastern European nations such as Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Serbia and the Czech Republic.
Szekeres said if he invented a time machine that went back to the 1992 Barcelona Games, his first-place performance there would be somewhere around a 16th-place finish at London 2012.
But that is not stopping him.
Despite the new generation of Wheelchair Fencers that also includes medal hopefuls from France and China, Szekeres has the same goals he has always had since the 1970's.
“My dream is to medal,” Szekeres said.
Then he paused for a moment.
“My dream is to win.”