Learn about this Summer Olympic sport

April 27, 2012

Nikolay Kovalev (left), of Russia, and Giampiero Pastore, of Italy, compete in the men's team sabre fencing bronze match at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

The art of swordplay can be traced as far back as ancient Egypt. But fencing as an organized sport did not begin until the end of the 19th century. The sport’s first Olympic appearance was at the 1896 Games in Athens, Greece. Only men were allowed to compete at first. Women’s fencing entered the Olympics in 1924, in Paris, France. Few sports have been featured at every modern Olympic Summer Games. Fencing is one of them.

Rules of the Games

Competitors do battle following fixed movements and strict rules. Three types of swords are used in Olympic fencing contests: the foil, epée and sabre. The foil is a thin, light sword. It has a flexible blade and flattened tip. The epée is similar to the foil, but is heavier with a stiffer blade. Both are point weapons. That means a fencer can only get a hit by touching his or her opponent with the tip of the sword. The third sword, the sabre, is similar in weight to the foil. The difference is that competitors can use both the edge and the tip of the sabre’s blade to make a hit.

Fencers compete in intense individual contests and in team events. Matches require speed, focus and on-point technique. In contests using the epée, both competitors can score at the same time. In foil and sabre events, only one fencer can score at a time. Individual fencing contests last for three rounds at three minutes each, or until a fencer has scored 15 hits. For team events, teams of three fencers compete against their opponents over a series of nine rounds until a team reaches 45 hits. On guard!


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