THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JAMES A. BONDOUX

RENE BONDOUX: SWORDSMAN



As he struggled with some subjects in high school (math and languages were difficult for him), Father sought escape in sports. He quietly joined a soccer group connected with some school friends of his, but he was found out by his father when it came time to take on a rival team in a public game. "This is not proper, you will not wrestle in the mud with other boys, in full view of everyone! I will not agree to your soccer thing. If you need to get some exercise, find another sport!" was the rebuke of my grandfather, a stern judge steeped in the old traditions.

This was around 1919, and Papa was then drawn to one of the features of his school, which was a fencing studio. This studio was run with an iron hand by an ancient fencing coach who was treasured for his ability to generate passionate enthusiasm for the sport in his students. Under the guidance of "old man Hazotte" Father threw himself into fencing with a vengeance. For about fifteen years of his life he practiced his swordmanship for at least two hours a day. (In due course, I attended the same school, but I gave fencing a wide berth....).

1932 Foils Team

At left: Three Foils Team members at the Olympic Village in 1932. Father is in the center.

His talent and persistent hard work earned him a number of titles throughout France and Europe, and eventually secured for him a berth on the five-man Foils French team that went to the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Father considered those Olympics to be one of the great adventures of his life: it involved a six–day crossing of the Atlantic by steamship, followed by a four–day train ride across the US, just to get to the venue. At the end of the eliminatory rounds, three teams were left standing: the US, Italy and France. The high-energy US team had made the finals by dint of aggressiveness and unconventional moves, but was finally defeated by the more classical techniques used by the other two teams. The final showdown involved 16 separate bouts and ended at 2:00 a.m., with France and Italy tied 8–8. The nod went to France on the basis of a higher total count of "touches". Olympic Gold!

The same team earned the Silver medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, losing to Italy. Those controversial Berlin Olympics gave Father a different set of thrills, but nothing could match the triumph in Los Angeles. He maintained his connection with the sport until late in life, by serving on the board of the International Fencing Federation, and as a judge at the 1948 London and 1952 Helsinki Games. He was also a guest of honor at the 1984 Los Angeles Games It is also notable that the fencing sphere was the source of many of Father's closest friends during his lifetime.