Hungary’s Piller of strength shines in the fencing

György Piller’s long and successful association with fencing began at the Ludovica Military Academy in Hungary, where he combined his military education with training at the academy’s fencing school.

Born György Jekelfalussy-Piller in the town of Egerin 1899, he joined Ludovica after deciding to embark on a military career, but what had begun as a sporting hobby soon grew into an all-embracing passion. After graduating from Ludovica, he became an army officer, and continued to pursue his interest in fencing, joining the Toldi Miklos Royal Hungarian Sports Institute, where he came under the guidance of László Borsody, a legendary fencing master.

Under Borsody’s tutelage, Piller developed into a truly world-class fencer, winning 10 Hungarian Championship titles (six with the sabre, four with the foil) in the space of just six years, as well as competing at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. By the time Los Angeles came around, Piller was now 33, and very much the leading light of the Hungarian fencing team. He won gold in both the individual and team sabre, helping Hungary to finish a creditable third in the fencing medal table, behind Italy and the USA.

The following year, Piller transferred his form back to the domestic sphere, once again winning the sabre team gold medal at the 1933 International Fencing Championships in Budapest. It was to be his final honour as a competitor, but the same year he was appointed coach of the Hungarian team, a role he held until the outbreak of World War II. Serving as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Hungarian Army, he was interned as a prisoner of war. After the war, he resumed his coaching role. In the early 1950s earned the illustrious title of fencing master and went on to coach the Hungarians to a gold medal in team sabre at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games.

Rather than returning home as heroes, Piller and his team defected to the USA as a response to the Hungarian Uprising that took place the same year in a nationwide revolt against the government. He americanised his name to George Piller and by 1958 had been named fencing master at the University of California at Berkeley, where his succeses as a coach continued.

Piller also became the fencing master at the Pannonia Athletic Club, where he helped several students including Daniel Magay, Maestro Charles Selberg and John McDougall to achieve great distinction in the sport. He died in San Francisco in 1960, aged 61.