Bebe Vio extends the incredible summer of sport for Italy with an superb display at the women's foil individual - category B event in Japan
Bebe Vio beat Jingjing Zhou of China 15-9 in the final to defend her Paralympic wheelchair fencing title against the same opponent as Rio 2016.
The Italian captured the globe's imagination with her performance five years ago at Rio 2016 and the popular 24-year-old didn't disappoint putting on a dominant display.
Vio cruised through the pool stage and look in control throughout all of the knockouts. Zhou, the current world number five, fell aside to Bebe's aggressive style.
The win comes after a set of challenging circumstances surrounding preparations.
"I puked so many times this morning I was so stressed. And I fell on the floor after the semi-final. So I was not feeling like so well," she said to Olympics.com.
"Italy is my favourite place in the world. And, so, I [have] cried every time I listen to the anthem.
"It's amazing being with the soccer team [who won the European Championship], being with [Gianmarco] Tamberi [who won the Olympic high jump]... We are so proud to be part of this big family of Italy."
Bebe Vio let off an almighty scream immediately after her victory in the gold medal bout at Rio 2016. It made her into a sporting icon.
She went into the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics as the number one ranked fencer in the individual women’s foil – category B. But injury problems and a lack of competitive action leading up to the Games meant she was lacking in confidence.
“I don’t know how it is going to be because the last time [I was fencing competitively] was 3 August 2020,” Vio said to Olympics.com a few weeks before competition.
“I don’t know my physical condition right now… [I am] stressed… I am super scared.”.
Vio was just 11 when she contracted meningitis. Doctors saved her life but amputated both legs at her knees and her forearms. She was an avid fencer before the condition and only took eight months away from the sport competitively following the procedure.
This time she’s been away for more than a year.
“The moment in which I am going to put down the helmet and I am going to fence – that is the moment in which I am going to put out all my stress… But until that moment – I don’t know how it’s going to be.”
She blasted through her first opponent in eight seconds. Georgia’s Irma Khetsuriani, who is ranked sixth in the world, was dispatched with ease. The moment was here, and it looked to be going well.
Her next two opponents were also dismantled with an impressive efficiency. Japan’s ABE Chrisato lasted 3 seconds with world number three Ludmila Vasileva of the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) making it to the 10s mark. They both lost 5-0.
Vio advanced to the knockout stages undefeated. Two 5-1 wins over Brazil’s Monica Santos and Rong Xiao of China were followed by a final 5-2 victory against Hong Kong’s Yuen Ping Chung.
Vio’s emotional style and commitment to complete honesty means she’s a great person to follow on social media.
It’s also meant she’s attracted fans within other Paralympic disciplines. USA’s Matt Stutzman fires arrows with his feet and is a silver Paralympic medallist in archery. He co-starred with Bebe in the popular Netflix documentary ‘Rising Phoenix’. She called Stutzman her ’idol’ on an Instagram story prior to his competition in Tokyo.
“This is crazy because she's my idol… she has the most addictive personality…
“I wish we lived close together because I would train with her and hang out with her all the time because she's amazing.”
Adapted fencing requires competitors to have their wheelchairs attached to the ground. It leads to an intense fight with a visually impressive demonstration of coordination, mobility, and reflexes. It’s easy to forget that Vio is fighting with no hands.
The first fencer to score five hits at the pool stage wins. The knockout rounds are expanded with the fencer who scores 15 hits declared the winner.
Bebe blazed her way through Georgia’s Irma Khetsuriani, for the second time of the day, to make her way to the semis with a 15-6 win.
“My dream is trying to help someone else to understand not how to be happy, but how happy you could be.” Bebe Vio to Olympics.com
Irina Mishurova, who is representing the RPC, was also dispatched with ease 15-4 to guarantee Vio at least silver. She allowed herself a brief celebration with some supporters in the crowd ahead of her gold medal bout against the same final opponent as Rio 2016: Jingjing Zhou of China.
The final was tense with Zhou scoring the first point. But Vio recovered and eventually pulled away to the win 15-9.
"It was great. Really emotional. It was a beautiful moment that will live forever," her brother Nicolo said to Tokyo 2020. "The family is very important for everybody. We are always together with our mind, because we live pretty far away, but we are very good team."
Italy are in action again on 29 August in the team event of wheelchair fencing.
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