London 2012 Olympic Preview: Fencing

June 23, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Mariel Zagunis (USA) (left) fences with Shan Liu (CHN) (right) during the Korfanty Cup at Navy Pier. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

With the Olympics right around the corner, we are Bloody Elbow are doing previews for all the martial sports in the Olympics. We have already covered the grappling sports of Wrestling and Judo, and now we will be looking at the other martial sports. We will start off with my personal favorite Olympic sport: Fencing.

Fencing competitions feature three weapons: foil, epee and sabre. Each weapon features an individual and team event with both men's and women's divisions.

The foil is the original fencing weapon in which fencers can only target the torso and score with the tip of the blade. It started as a practice weapon in dueling schools, teaching students to go for and defend against the most lethal of attacks, thrusts to the upper body. Epee is drawn from the dueling rapier and the fencer can score with the tip anywhere on the body. Finally the sabre is drawn from the military cavalry sword. Fencers can slash with the edge of their sword as well as stab, but only above the waist.

Each weapon carries with it slightly different rules but there are some universal rules. Individual matches in the tournament bracket are 9 minutes long, broken into 3 minute periods. The first fencer to 15 points or with the most points at the end of the time limit wins and advances.

Team events feature three fencers on each team and they fence to 45 points in increments of five. This sounds confusing but is very simple and often results in a good deal of excitement. The two fencers in the first round fence to 5 points. If Fencer A wins the round with 5 points and Fencer B only gets 2 points, when their teammates come in they insert the 5-2 score and then fence to ten.

Both fencers are plugged into a scoring box, which uses an electric system to turn on a colored light when a fencer hits his opponent. There are also white lights which denote an attack that landed off-target in foil.

Lets get into the preview after the jump

Foil

  • Italian Powerhouse: Italy is one of the traditional powers of the fencing world. Along with France, Italy has a long tradition of swordsmanship and is home to fencing schools that can trace lineages back to actual dueling academies. Currently Italy is home to the top three ranked men's foil fencers, they are lead by multiple time world champion Andrea Cassara.
  • One Last Chance: Germany's Peter Joppich is a multiple time world champion who has been to two Olympics but failed to medal both times. This could very well be his last chance at a medal and he is certainly one to watch.
  • Simply the Best: Valentina Vezzali of Italy is the best women's foil fencer alive. Vezzali's trophy case includes five Olympic golds and thirteen World Championships, and she is a strong favorite to add another Olympic medal. Another Italian to watch is young Arianna Errigo, who has medaled at World Championships the last five years in a row. Out side of Italy there is South Korea's Hyun Hee Nam, who has often taken silver at worlds to Vezzali.
  • Clash of the Titans: In the team event, the traditional fencing powers of Italy, France and Russia are all fielding strong teams, along with an increasing strong Chinese team, who are defending team World Champions.
  • U.S. Prospects Bright: In the men's team competition the U.S. is fielding a strong team, featuring 19-year-old Race Imboden, who is currently ranked fifth in the world. Along with Gerek Meinhardt and Miles Chamley-Watson, the U.S. team is a very young and talented team and could be battling for a bronze medal.

Epee

  • Cluster of Contenders: Because of epee's rule set and the whole body being a target area, it is the toughest weapon to achieve consistency and as a result there are a great deal of contenders. Italy's Paolo Pizzo is the defending World Champion. Nikolai Novosjolov of Estonia is currently ranked #1 in the world, and is a former World Championship and veteran of the international scene.
  • American Standout: Soren Thompson could be the best American epee fencer ever. He was a member of the 2004, missed the 2008 team due to injury and now is on 2012 Olympic Squads. He also led the U.S. epee team to a World Championship team championships this year. He has never medaled at the Olympics but he has a outside shot this year.
  • Tough Luck: Due to the organization of the Olympics, two team events are not included in each games and this year Men's Team Epee and Women's Team Sabre didn't get an Olympic event.
  • Chinese Women: China currently has the top two women epeeists in Yujie Sun and Na Li. Xiaojuan Luo, their third fencer is ranked #8.
  • Tough Team Field: Romania is home to the next two top girls. The team event is going to be excellent in this division as China, Russia, Romania, Korea, Italy and the U.S. all have strong teams.

Sabre

  • Youth Movement: There has been a great deal of turnover since the last Olympics and sabre is full of fresh faces to World Championship medal stands. One of those fresh faces is Germany's Nicolas Limbach, who has won two World Championships in the last three years. Alexey Yakimenko has been on the Russian National team since 2004, but is just 28 years old and coming into his own as a fencer. He has won the last three European Championships in a row but is still waiting to have a breakout performance on the world stage.
  • Old Guard: The defending Olympic Champion Zhong Man of China will return, but has struggled since winning gold in Beijing. Italian Aldo Montano, a World and Olympic Champion, is 33 years old but is still a huge threat to win the gold medal with his hyper aggressive style.
  • Italian Experience: Italy is has a tight knit team of veterans as Aldo Montano, Luigi Tarantino and Giampiero Pastore have been on the Italian Olympic Team together since 2004. Together they have won two team bronze medals and one silver. All three fencers are in their thirties and this is likely their last time together and would love to go out on top.
  • French Disconnection: Normally a powerhouse, France has fallen on hard times. They failed to qualify a team and only have one fencer in the Men's Individual event. However the powerful Bolade Apithy is a dangerous fencer, his size and speed make him a match for anyone in the world.
  • Rising Asian Powers: The Koreans and Chinese have been rising forces in men's sabre fencing. Their national programs are committed to getting international results. The fencers from these two nations are very athletic and explosive and have been collecting world championship medals in the last few years.
  • Pressure on U.S. Men: The U.S. team has two returning members of the team that won silver in 2008, but they have a huge hole to fill with the retirement of Keith Smart. Tim Morehouse and James Williams were important members of that team, but are they ready to be go-to guys on the U.S. team? They won't be doing it alone as the very talented Daryl Homer has joined the team, and Jeff Spear will be available off the bench. They have an outside shot to medal, but it will be an uphill battle against some of the stacked teams they will need to compete against.
  • Can There Only Be One? Women's sabre is a fairly new weapon to the Olympics, as the 2004 Athens games was the division debut in the Summer Games. American Mariel Zagunis, barely made it into the Athens Games and shocked the world when she won the gold medal. She then went on to become a dominant force in the weapon and won the 2008 games. She heads to London ranked #1 in the world with the goal of winning the gold medal and remaining the only women's sabre Olympic champion in history a little bit longer. And don't sleep on American Dagmara Wozniak who is a Top 10 womens sabrist and could find herself on the medal stand as well.
  • The World is Catching Up: In mid-2000s the U.S. was far ahead of the rest of the world in women's sabre, in 2006 the U.S. swept the medal stand at World Championships. But the rest of the world is catching up, and Sofya Velikaya of Russia and Olga Kharlan of Ukraine are both elite fencers who can legitimately challenge Zagunis.

Fencing will be taking place from July 28th to August 4th and the sabre events are normally televised on NBC and the other events will be available online.

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