Jerzy Pawłowski bigraphy, stories - Polish fencer and double agent

Jerzy Pawłowski : biography

25 October 1932 - 2005-1-11

Jerzy Pawłowski (Warsaw, October 25, 1932 – January 11, 2005, Warsaw) was a Polish fencer and double agent.


While a major in the Polish Army, Pawłowski won the gold medal in the individual men's saber event at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, the first non-Hungarian in 48 years to win an Olympic sabre gold medal. He took part in a total of six Olympic Games from 1952 to 1972, garnering additionally three silver medals and a bronze at the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Summer Olympics.

In 1967 the International Fencing Federation declared him the best fencer of all time.

He was arrested on April 24, 1975, and on April 8, 1976, was sentenced by a military court in Warsaw to 25 years' prison, 10 years' suspension of civic rights, demotion to private, forfeiture of all his property for having committed espionage since 1964 on behalf of an unnamed NATO country, and his name was erased from Polish sporting records. He had in fact been a double agent for the U.S. CIA from 1964, and for Polish intelligence from 1950.

Ten years later, he was to have been included in one of the spy exchanges at Berlin's Glienicke Bridge but chose to remain in Poland and spent the rest of his life as a painter and faith healer in Warsaw, where he died.


Pawlowski was born in Warsaw in 1932 and studied law at university there. He also joined the army, eventually rising to the rank of major. He took to fencing comparatively late, as a 16-year-old, concentrating on sabre. By 1953 he was runner-up in the world under-21 championships and was part of the team that took bronze at the senior world championships, Poland's first such success since 1934. At the next championships, he came fourth in the individual event behind three Hungarians, who had long exerted a stranglehold on sabre fencing.

At the 1956 Olympics, Pawlowski took silver, and the following year won the world title outright, a success he would repeat in 1965 and 1966, as well as winning Olympic gold in 1968. In 1959 the Polish team, with Pawlowski its spearhead, finally upset the Hungarians to win the gold medal, which they did again in 1961, 1962 and 1963.

Pawlowski was slightly built and about five feet nine inches tall, but he was exceptionally graceful, his body advancing and retreating with such control that his torso seemed not to move as his legs carried him away from his opponent. He would do crazy actions, just so he could get the final hit with a flick to the wrist or such a simple movement that the audience would gasp at his audacity. And then a courteous smile, a nod of the head, and a knowing look, as if he and the onlookers were sharing some special secret.

By the 1970s the lightning-fast tearaway had been replaced by a supreme technician with the footwork of a dancer. A rival team manager reckoned Pawlowski had eight different ways of moving forward - each calculated to induce a different reaction. One team mate recalls Pawlowski's lessons with his Hungarian coach, Janos Kevey, their blades moving so fast that even an experienced onlooker could not follow the action. Kevey took to teaching Pawlowski with sabres in each hand: "Why waste time?" he would say. Pawlowski just got faster.

He was not only a hero among fencers. His book on the Olympics, Trud olimpijskiego zlota ("The Burden of Olympic Gold", 1973), his regular appearances on television and his talks to sports clubs and army units made him popular all over Poland. He received the highest decorations the state could bestow, and under his auspices fencing grew into one of his country's most popular sports. He was made president of Polish fencing while still an active team member.

In the mid-1960s, when he was completing his law studies, he drove around in a Mercedes 300 - the same car as the country's prime minister. He lived in the centre of Warsaw in a five-room apartment full of antique furniture, expensive books and good paintings. He spoke several languages with ease, and his mischievous charm won him friends worldwide.

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