London 2012 Guide to…Fencing


FENCING is probably the only way you’re ever going to see a legal sword fight in the 21st century.

It is one of the few sports that have featured in every modern Olympics, since it started in 1896.

  • How it works

Individual contests are divided up in to three rounds of three minutes, or shorter should one fencer score 15 points.

In the team events, three fencers compete against their opponents over nine rounds and a maximum of 45 points can be won.

Every fencing match is a knock-out, so it really is do or die.

  • Foil, épée and sabre

There are three forms of fencing at the Olympics, with the principles being essentially the same although with some subtle differences.

  • Foil

The foil is the lightest and quickest sword used. It has an electric button at its tip and to win a point, a fencer must depress the tip on the opponent for at least 15 MILLISECONDS. (Bet you didn’t know there was a speed as fast as that).

The scoring area is the torso, which is covered in a conductive material that alerts officials when a point is scored. If both fencers score a point at the same time, the point is awarded to the fencer who initiated the exchange.

Hope that’s clear.

  • Epée

Epée fencing is more free-flowing, compared with the foil. The blade is heavier, and fencers can hit anywhere on an opponent’s body.

The épée is fitted with a button at its tip and to win a point it needs to touch the opponent for one millisecond, with a force of at least 7.35 Newtons. Fact.

  • Sabre

Sabre swords have a double-edged blade and points are earned by touching the upper-half of the opponent. This might sound easy, so footwork is particularly key to getting the better of your opponent.

  • Fencing in London

There are a total of 10 gold medals up for grabs.

For the men, there’s the individual foil, épée and sabre, along with the team épée and sabre.

For women, there’s indivudal foil, épée and sabre, and team foil and sabre events.

  • Ones to watch

The French and Italians are likely to be up in the medals, as both nations have a strong Olympic history in the sport.

Italy have 45 golds to France’s 41, and both have an overall total of 100+ Olympic Fencing medals.

And finally…

Look out for: a Star Wars character. There’s bound to be one turning up with his lightsaber looking for a fight. Perhaps.

Not to be confused with: fences, which lay no part whatsoever.

Useless but informative fact: Italian Nedo Nadl won all three fencing gold medals at the 1920 Games in Antwerp – the only person to have ever done so.

Fencing in two words: be alert.

Fencing takes place from Saturday 28th July to Sunday 5th August, at ExCeL – the exhibition and conference centre in London Docklands.