London 2012: Fencing

Published On July 12, 2012 | By Zoë Hayden

Tell me about fencing:

Fencing began its history as a competitive event in the 1800’s, though sword-fighting is of course as old as swords themselves. It has consistently been an Olympic event since 1896.  A fencer aims to make contact with his or her opponent more effectively using quick motions, evasive maneuvers, and defensive postures. Fencing events will take place at ExCeL London, an exhibition center in the borough of Newham. There will be a total of ten events, with five each for both men and women, combining individual and team events in épée, foil, and sabre. Men get team sabre and only individual épée, while women get only individual sabre and team épée. The events take their names from the swords used. The foil is lightweight and has a straight, flexible blade. Épée is similar to a foil, but has a stiffer blade with a V-shape, and is overall heavier. The sabre has the v-shape of an épée but is not as stiff.

What’s up with the scoring?

Points are scored by touching the opponent with the tip of one’s blade–except for the sabre, which can score points by touching with the side of the blade.  Each sword has its own areas which are legal to touch on the opponent, ranging from the whole body (épée) to just the torso (foil). The sabre allows the opponent to be touched anywhere above the waist. Foil and sabre have “right of way” rules that govern how points-awarding is prioritized, often based on how well the fencer positioned himself to make the attack–for example, if both opponents achieve a touch, a point is awarded to the one who had priority via right of way rules. Individual events are simply individual bouts, while team events are teams of three doing bouts against each other in a specific order.  Fouls can be called for a variety of illegal moves, often contact on an illegal part of the opponent’s body, depending on the weapon being used.

How do players qualify?

Qualification for the Olympics was based on the 2012 rankings of international fencers from the Federation Internationale D’Escrime (International Fencing Federation) based on various individual competitions, with further qualification events taking place leading up to the Olympics. Qualification for medal rounds is done in simple knockout format.

International players to watch:

Italian competitors dominate the rankings somewhat for fencing, though many of the FIE’s highest-ranked fencers this year will not be coming to the Olympics. In individual épée, Paolo Pizzo won gold at the 2011 World Championships and is a favorite in the upcoming events. Hungarian Aida Mohamed has competed in the Olympics since 1996 in individual women’s foil, but has yet to win anything above a bronze–it could be her year.

Americans to watch:

Mariel Zagunis is an Olympic fencing veteran and only the second American ever to win a gold medal in the sport. She is the two-time reigning champion in women’s individual sabre and will be returning for her third summer Olympics. Soren Thompson, a former fencer for Harvard University, failed to make it to a medal round in Athens in 2004 and skipped Beijing, but he is fresh off of a gold medal in men’s team épée at the 2012 World Championships.

Talk like an Olympian–terms to know:

parry – a defensive motion; any move used to block an opponent’s strike

riposte – an attack made immediately after an opponent’s parry

piste – the playing area

corps-a-corps – meaning “body-to-body” in French, this is used to describe physical contact between the two fencers, which is illegal in foil and sabre, but not necessarily in épée.

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About The Author

Zoë Hayden is a 22-year-old writer from Hopwood, Pennsylvania currently living in Boston. She is a graduate of Emerson College and enjoys covering hockey, international sports tournaments, technology, history, science, and gender issues. You can find her on Twitter: @zoeclaire_