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Olympics guide: Fencing


Dressing up in full face and body armour whilst carrying a 2ft sword is a little anti-social, but then again so is trying to jab someone in the face and body with a 2ft sword. So we guess that makes it alright. Fencing guide ahoy!

When? 6-14 August 2016

Golds up for grabs: 10

Olympic presence: Men, 1896–present; women 1924–present.

Olympic Format: There are individual contests for épée, foil and sabre for both men and women. Men contest a team foil and a team sabre competition, women team foil and team épée.

Past Champions: Italy: 48 | France: 41 | Hungary: 35


The Basics

Fencing bouts consist of three three-minute segments, fought out on a piste – a strip that must be between 1.5 and 2m wide. Fencers score when they hit the opponent’s target areas, which vary according to the kind of sword used. The winner is the one who scores most hits, and in the event of a tie one minute overtime is played. Lots are drawn before overtime to determine who wins in the event of another tie, in order to force fencers to be aggressive.


Penalties can be awarded for jostling, deflecting hits with the hand and refusing to salute one’s opponents. Referees award a yellow card and a warning for the first infringement, a red card and a penalty point after this, and a black card for a third offence, which means disqualification. It is illegal to parry a blade with the arm, but the practice is widespread: high-level fencing is so fast that referees rarely catch it.

Chose your Weapons

Three types of weapon are used in Olympic and international fencing, and different rules apply to each (pictured, below).

Foil: The lightest and most flexible of the swords was developed in eighteenth-century France as a training weapon. A hit is scored only with the point of the sword and only on the torso.

Épée: Closer to the classic duelling sword of the nineteenth century, the épée may strike at any part of the body, but only with its tip – a style devised originally to draw blood but not to kill.

Sabre: Derived from cavalry swords and duelling weapons like the rapier, the sabre is designed for cutting and slashing as much as thrusting. Points are scored with any part of the sword anywhere from the waist up – including the mask and back.

Electronic Scoring

Keeping score is hard in fencing, due to the speed of the action. In early Olympic contests, there were unsuccessful experiments with dye-tipped swords and points that snagged clothing to reveal hits. The electrical épée was first introduced into the European championships in 1935 and was considered a success. The foil equivalent arrived in 1955 and the sabre in 1988.

Team Events

Three-member teams compete with each fencer fighting all three opponents. The total hits from all the bouts are added up to determine the winners.

(Image: Rex Features)



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