Anspach spearheads Belgians to epée golds

In the absence of the traditionally strong French, who boycotted the fencing competitions at the 1912 Games due to a disagreement over the rules, the Belgians dominated the epée events in Stockholm, winning the team gold and occupying two of the three podium spots in the individual event.

At their helm was team captain Paul Anspach, one of the key figures in the creation of the Belgian Olympic Committee in 1906, who had been part of the Belgian team that captured silver in the team event four years earlier in London. He had also competed in the individual epée event in 1908 but could place no better than fifth, while he exited the sabre in the early stages.

In Stockholm however, he was peerless, topping the podium in the individual epée competition, and leading a Belgian team that included his brother Henri to gold in the team event.

In the individual event, Anspach won six of his seven matches in the eight-man round-robin final, which took place over three days on 11-13 July. His only defeat came at the hands of British fencer Edgar Seligman, who had earlier led Great Britain to silver in the team event behind Anspach’s Belgian collective. Belgium’s supremacy in the epee was further underlined by the presence on the individual competition podium of Anspach’s compatriot Philippe Le Hardy de Beaulieu, who won bronze. Meanwhile, Anspach also reached the semi-finals of the individual foil, but failed to add to his medal tally.

A year after the Stockholm Games, Anspach helped to found the International Fencing Federation (FIE), and would later serve as its president from 1932 until 1939, and again from 1946 until 1950. In 1914, he served as Secretary at the Paris Olympic Congress, where, together with the Marquess of Chasseloup-Laubat, he was responsible for formulating the rules for fencing as an Olympic sport.

Anspach, who remained captain of the Belgian epée team until 1928, was back in Olympic competition at the 1920 Antwerp Games, where he added another silver to his collection in the team épée. His final appearance came at the 1924 Paris Games, where yet again he captained the Belgian team to silver in the epée, while finishing ninth in the individual competition.

In 1951 Anspach was awarded the inaugural Taher Pacha Trophy, given annually to an athlete whose "general merit and career justify the award of a special distinction in the name of Olympism".

In 1976, the 90-year-old Anspach was awarded the Silver Medal of the Olympic Order and the same year he was invited to take part in the ceremony that saw the Olympic flame start its journey from Athens to Montreal, host city for the 1976 Games, but was deemed too frail to make the journey.