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History

As a preparation for armed combat, fencing is as old as the sword itself. Even as a sport it has a surprisingly long history – ancient Egyptian carvings and paintings show fencing bouts over 3000 years ago using sticks, a recreation that continues unbroken to this day in upper Egypt.

Although some early manuscripts show swordplay, it was only when the long thin rapier was developed as an item of fashion and status for noblemen in the 16th century that the foundations of modern fencing are laid. First seen as part of civilian dress in Spain and then Italy, this sword, with its emphasis on hitting with the point, was considerably more dangerous than the cuttings weapons that had preceded it.

Because rapier thrusts were often fatal, there was a need for skilled fencing masters to teach young men how to handle the new weapon. Educated amateur swordsmen in Italy began looking at the scientific principles involved and published beautifully illustrated treatises. Soon Italian masters became the most sought after in Europe and the rapier became an essential accessory for the fashionable man about town.

But during the 17th century the cumbersome rapier became obsolete. At the court of Louis XIV in France the latest fashion demanded the wearing of a much shorter court sword. The highly manoeuvrable weapon that evolved had a triangular hollow-ground blade for lightness and strength ending in a needle-sharp point and was the deadliest civilian sword ever made. It completely changed the way fencing was taught, leading to the introduction of the foil with its artificial rules as a means of practising swordplay in relative safety.

In the mid-18th century a French fencing master invented something that was to revolutionise fencing technique: the wire mask. It was not immediately accepted by good fencers who thought it unnecessary, but by the second decade of the 19th century it had become standard equipment.

 

Olympic History

Competitive fencing as a sport flourished in Europe in the last decade of the 19th century and as a result, it was included on the programme of the first modern Olympics. The founder of the modern Games and the champion of amateur sport, Pierre de Coubertin, was himself a fencer.

 In 1956 Gillian Sheen became Britain’s first and to date only fencing Olympic gold medallist when she won the women’s individual foil title. But we have also won nine silver medals, the last by Bill Hoskyns in the 1964 individual epee. And in 1932 a British fencer displayed one of the greatest acts of sporting behaviour in the history of Olympic sport. Fencing for the gold medal at the Los Angeles Games, Judy Guinness twice acknowledged a hit made by her opponent but not seen by the judges in a fight she lost by two hits.

Technical

Fencing combines speed, fitness and technical skill with the need to be completely focussed on out-thinking your opponent. Decisions need to be made in the blink of an eye while a fencer is under physical stress.  The coach is central to encouraging the fencer and suggesting changes of tactics.

Simply put, a fencer must score the required number of hits to win each fight while avoiding being hit.  Foil, sabre and epee are the three disciplines with men and women fighting in separate competitions.  The target area and the weapons themselves are different in each discipline.

Some 200 fencers will be taking part in the 2012 London Olympics. Competitions will be held in the Fencing Hall ExCel Arena.

Although men and women fence all three weapons in individual and team events, two team events are excluded from the schedule in each Olympic cycle. For London 2012 these are men’s epee and women’s sabre. 

equipment

Foil

Foil is a point weapon, meaning that hits are scored with the tip and only on the valid target area.  Developed in mid-17th century France as the sporting counterpart of the court sword, it allowed the skills of swordplay to be demonstrated in relative safety by restricting valid hits to the torso. Rules were also established whereby the attacker’s blade had to be parried before the defender could make a riposte or launch their own attack.  These basic conventions still apply today and it is the referee who decides which fencer  initiates the attack and therefore alone scores if hits arrive simultaneously.

 

Sabre

Also a weapon of convention, sabre follows the same rules as foil but it is a ‘cutting’ weapon, meaning that fencers can hit with the edge of the blade as well as the point.  This weapon is derived from the cavalry sword and the target is everything above the waist.

 

Epee

 Epee is derived from the 19th century duelling sword and replaces the artificial conventions of foil and sabre with just one aim: to hit and not be hit – anywhere from head to toe. But if each fencer hits within a 25th of a second, they both score.

 

Piste

Fencing matches take place indoors on a special surface called a piste, 14 metres long and 1.5 metres wide.  Fencer must stay within the confines of the piste to avoid a penalty.

 

Dress

For protection, fencers wear a vest and jacket, a mask, and a glove. They also wear breeches and special fencing shoes.  Foil and Sabre fencers also wear a special metallic over-jacket covering the valid target area.  Wireless fencing has been introduced in recent times so fencers at the Olympics will also wear a special t-shirt, transceiver and a mask with lights indicating when they hit.

 

Scoring apparatus

Fencers are connected through a wireless system to a scoreboard which displays when hits are made.  For epee and sabre the system is simple as coloured lights on the side of the scoring fencer show up.  In foil there is also a white off-target light.  When such a hit is scored the referee will stop the fight but continue it from that position on the piste.

 

Video Replays

Fencing like Tennis uses technology to allow fencers to challenge a referee’s decision. The hit will be reviewed on video and the  decision can be upheld or overturned. The number of these challenges is limited to two unsuccessful in any individual fight and one unsuccessful in each fight in a team match.

 

Individual bouts

Each bout consists of three rounds of three minutes each in epee and foil with one minute between rounds.   Sabre is so fast that the referee calls a single one-minute break when one fencer reaches eight hits.  The winner is the fencer who first scores 15 valid hits or who scores the greater number of hits by the end of the fight.  If the fencers are level by the end of normal time, a final minute is fenced  and a random generator indicates which fencer will be considered the winner if no hit is scored in that time. 

 

Team bouts

A team consists of three fencers and the winning team is the first to score a total of 45 hits on the fencers of the opposing team or to score the greater number of hits by the end of the bout.

rules

To ensure fencers only score hits with fair moves, fencing has a penalty card system.  Minor offences are penalised by the referee showing a Yellow Card.  If a fencer receives a second Yellow Card in the same fight, a penalty hit is awarded against them that is signalled by the showing of a Red Card.  In more serious cases a fencer may receive an immediate Red Card.

The ultimate sanction is the Black Card that will result in the fencer's exclusion from the competition.

Team HeroesEntire Team

Richard Kruse was the first British fencer to qualify outright for London 2012 after winning a satellite event in Copenhagen in March – Natalia Sheppard became the second after the final European qualifying event in Bratislava a month lat...

Our Results

Total: 9 medals
  • 1 Gold
  • 8 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Athens 1896
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Paris 1900
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
London 1908
  • 0 Gold
  • 1 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Stockholm 1912
  • 0 Gold
  • 1 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Antwerp 1920
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Paris 1924
  • 0 Gold
  • 1 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Amsterdam 1928
  • 0 Gold
  • 1 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Los Angeles 1932
  • 0 Gold
  • 1 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Berlin 1936
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
London 1948
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Helsinki 1952
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Melbourne 1956
  • 1 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Rome 1960
  • 0 Gold
  • 2 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Tokyo 1964
  • 0 Gold
  • 1 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Mexico City 1968
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Munich 1972
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Montreal 1976
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Moscow 1980
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Los Angeles 1984
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Seoul 1988
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Barcelona 1992
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Atlanta 1996
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Sydney 2000
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Athens 2004
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Beijing 2008
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
London 2012
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
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