Italian veteran fencer Valentina Vezzali chases a sixth Olympic Games gold in London as her country looks to extend its dominance of the sport.

Of the 522 medals won by Italy in Olympic competition, fencing has yielded 45 golds and 114 medals in total. It also means Italy tops the all-time Olympic fencing gold medal tally ahead of second-ranked France, who have 41.

The 38-year-old Vezzali is as close to a superstar that fencing can boast.

She is married to a footballer - Domenico Giuliano - and is the first fencer to have won five Olympic golds in the Foil event.

The mother of one has also collected 13 world championship golds and nine at European level.

Vezzali is nothing if not determined. In 2005, after taking time out to start a family, she returned to the sport just four months after son Pietro was born and retained her world title.

“Fencing is a mental sport and you must know how to manage when you are ahead but also when you are behind,” she said.

Highly-rated American fencer Mariel Zagumis is tipped to dominate the Sabre category.

Zagunis won gold in Athens in 2004, when she was just 19, only after being called into the tournament as a last-minute replacement and defended her title successfully in Beijing four years later.

The win in Greece was America’s first gold in the event for 100 years.

The 27-year-old from Oregon has the Olympics in her blood - her parents were rowers, who met at the 1976 Olympic trials and competed at the Montreal Games.

“I love fencing. I love training. I love competing. I don’t want to stop. How many people can say they get up in the morning and love going to work and working out, and have this great feeling of working toward a goal?,” she said.

“The Olympic goal is something that comes every four years. But you’re always working to beat a certain opponent, to win a certain competition, to improve yourself. There is so much that goes into it.”

Italy are also strong in men’s competition, with world champion and world number one Andrea Cassara leading a foil team which also includes world number two Valerio Aspromonte and 2009 world champion Andrea Baldini.