Hungary’s Szekeres Does Not Let Age Get to HimAt 47 years old, Hungarian wheelchair fencer Pal Szekeres is still the only athlete to date to have medalled at both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. 05 Aug 2012
“I want to win medals. It’s not a polite way to say it, but I want to win medals and that shows my motivation. I promised to my friends, I promised to my family and I promised to my country to bring home medals.”
Pal Szekeres’ story on the piste began in 1983, when he first became an able-bodied professional fencer for Hungary.
He quickly became a top fencer, winning bronze for Hungary at the Seoul 1988 Olympics before getting injured in a car accident just three years later.
That did not put a halt to his career, though, as he went on to win gold at the Atlanta 1996 Paralympics and bronze at the next three editions of the Games.
To date, Szekeres is the only athlete to have ever medalled at both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and London 2012 could be his final Paralympic appearance, so he hopes to come out on top.
“I’ll tell you very quietly, I come to win,” a nervous 47-year-old Szekeres said. “I come to win. It can happen if I’m able to fence with the top guys in top form.”
Then the champion paused, thinking about all he has already achieved on the Paralympic stage.
He decided to rephrase his response, this time with more confidence.
“I always come to win an individual medal,” Szekeres said. “I want to win medals. It’s not a polite way to say it, but I want to win medals and that shows my motivation. I promised to my friends, I promised to my family and I promised to my country to bring home medals.”
Young at heart
Szekeres today is much older than most of his competitors, some by more than 20 or 25 years. His muscles are more worn out and he is not able to train with as much strength or quickness as he had say a decade ago.
“My shoulders and elbows I think are 100 years old,” Szekeres joked. “The training camps and hard preparation is year-by-year, more painful for me.”
But being the determined athlete he is, Szekeres still knows he has it in him to reach the podium in London.
“There are no excuses like I’m old or something,” he said. “I can do the same as them and have the same chance to win a medal.”
Szekeres won Paralympic golds at the Atlanta 1996 Games in the individual foil and sabre events, bronze in the foil at Sydney 2000 and bronze in the sabre at Athens 2004.
“Eight years ago, I said it was the last Games, and I won my medal the night before my birthday and then said game over,” he said of Athens.
But being the fighter he is, Szekeres came back for Beijing 2008, winning bronze in the individual foil at age 44.
Even though Szekeres will turn 48 in September following the London 2012 Paralympics, he does not yet want to say these Games will be his last.
“To travel with the team and to be young again in the heart and on the piste is great,” Szekeres said.
A full schedule
As his nation’s most decorated Paralympic athlete, Szerekes is juggling quite a lot heading into London 2012, as Hungary’s Deputy Secretary of State for sport and the father of three children.
Spending time on the piste, where he now focuses his attention solely on the foil event, in addition to taking care of his 13-year-old son and twin 10-year-olds allows him to take his mind off the days in the office when he has to suit up for his high-level advisor role.
Up until last year, Szekeres had won a medal at every European and World Championships he had participated in. Last year, though, with the competition level reaching new heights he did not medal at worlds.
He will compete in the individual and team foil events in London, in which he expects athletes from China and Ukraine to be his toughest opponents.
“I think the Paralympic Games are always much more difficult and much different because everybody’s always in their top form,” Szekeres said. “Everybody is very motivated and very prepared.”