LONDON Italy beat Japan to win the men's team foil gold on Sunday, narrowly avoiding being pushed aside by upstart South Korea as the top Olympic fencing nation.
A 45-39 victory over Japan in the team foil final gave the Italians their seventh medal of the Olympic tournament, ahead of South Korea, who came out of nowhere to take six medals in London. China were third with three.
South Korea did not qualify a full men's foil squad but did capture the bronze in the men's individual tournament.
Italy's final touch came from the blade of Andrea Baldini, their anchor fencer, who was left off the 2008 Olympic team after testing positive for a banned diuretic and being banned for six months.
Italy's men's foil team were the defending champions, having won gold when the event was last held at the Olympics, in Athens in 2004.
"I always thought we were going to win," said Italian team member Valerio Aspromonte, "but I knew it wasn't going to be easy."
In the bronze medal match, Germany took a commanding early lead over the United States and never looked back, with their 2008 individual winner Benjamin Kleibrink scoring six unanswered touches off Gerek Meinhardt.
Germany's four-time world champion Peter Joppich of Germany said he was glad to win some kind of Olympic medal at last.
"There is a lot of pressure because I won four world championship titles and everybody talks about the Olympics. Maybe it was a little bit of a curse, but now I got the medal and I am very happy," he said.
The London Olympics were a major disappointment for the United States, whose largely new fencing team won only one medal, a bronze in women's team epee, after their predecessors scooped up six in 2008.
Unlike most of their European and now Asian rivals, few U.S. fencers are able to make a full-time living out of the sport, and after an Olympic run many head back to school or jobs, unable to afford the time or expense of training and travel.
(Editing by Kevin Liffey)