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Olympic Fencing

A Modern Sport

The sport of fencing is fast and athletic, a far cry from the choreographed bouts you see on film or on the stage. Instead of swinging from a chandelier or leaping from balconies, you will see two fencers performing an intense dance on a 6-feet by 44-feet strip. The movement is so fast the touches are scored electrically – a lot more like Star Wars than Errol Flynn.

Winning

Competitors win a fencing bout (what an individual “game” is called) by being the first to score 15 points (in direct elimination play) or 5 points (in preliminary pool play) against their opponent, or by having a higher score than their opponent when the time limit expires. Each time a fencer lands a valid hit - a touch - on their opponent, they receive one point. The time limit for direct elimination matches is nine minutes - three three-minute periods with a one-minute break between each.

Fencers are penalized for crossing the lateral boundaries of the strip, while retreating off the rear limit of their side results in a touch awarded to their opponent.

Team matches feature three fencers squaring off against another team of three in a "relay" format. Each team member fences every member of the opposing team in sequence over 9 rounds until one team reaches 45 touches or has the higher score when time expires in the final round.

Fencing at the Olympic Games will feature a single-elimination table format, much like that used in Tennis. There will be no preliminary rounds, as the initial seeding into the table will be determined by World Rankings.

The Weapons

Foil, epee and saber are the three weapons used in the sport of fencing. While some fencers compete in all three events, elite generally choose to focus their energies on mastering one weapon.

Foil - The Sport of Kings

The foil is a descendant of the light court sword formerly used by nobility to train for duels. It has a flexible, rectangular blade approximately 35 inches in length and weighing less than one pound. Points are scored with the tip of the blade and must land on valid target: torso from shoulders to groin in the front and to the waist in the back. The arms, neck, head and legs are considered off-target - hits to this non-valid target temporarily halts the fencing action, but does not result any points being awarded. This concept of on-target and off-target evolved from the theory of 18th-century fencing masters, who instructed their pupils to only attack the vital areas of the body - i.e. the torso. Of course, the head is also a vital area of the body, but attacks to face were considered unsporting and therefore discouraged.

Although top foil fencers still employ classical technique of parries and thrusts, the flexible nature of the foil blade permits the modern elite foil fencer to attack an opponent from seemingly impossible angles. Competitors often "march" down the fencing strip at their opponent, looking to whip or flick the point of their blade at the flank or back of their opponent. Because parrying (blocking) these attacks can be very difficult, the modern game of foil has evolved into a complicated and exciting game of multiple feints, ducking and sudden, explosive attacks.


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