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Tracing the history of Fencing as an Olympic sport ahead of the Tokyo Olympics 

Fencing at the Lima Pan Am 2019 Games
Fencing at the Lima Pan Am 2019 Games
Sohinee Basu
SENIOR ANALYST

With Bhavani Devi becoming the first Indian fencer to qualify for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, interest in fencing has piqued again. One of the earliest forms of sport to be included in the Olympics, fencing has been part of the great multi-sporting extravaganza since the 1896 Athens Games.

Posing as an essentially defensive sport that works on the basic strategy of combat, fencing is a lot similar to traditional sword-fighting, but with a difference. The primary objective of fencing lies in scoring points by landing jabs with the flattened-out tip of a weapon on the opponent.

Requiring extremely adept reflexes, fencing can be a pretty demanding sport involving rapid action and quick thinking.

Being a contact sport, the fencers are traditionally dressed in an elaborate all-white attire made up of Kevlar, designed to protect the body. Fencers put on a lamé - an electrically conductive garment, over the scoring area to facilitate in the scoring process so that the jabs and hits can be registered.

Furthermore, fencing is classified into three disciplines - the foil, the épée, and the sabre, the distinctions taking place based on the weapons employed for each of them.

The origin story of Fencing

Fencing at the Rio Olympics
Fencing at the Rio Olympics

The history of fencing is an easy giveaway as this form of encounter traces its roots way back to the 15th century when duels and swordfights were the norm.

With mentions of fencing-like activities in the pages of literature to even its showcase in The Big Bang Theory (Season 9, Episode 5), fencing as a sport has made a space for itself even in popular culture.

Originally practiced as a martial art form to be used in self-defense and military training activities, fencing inched towards being a sport in the mid-18th century, spearheaded by Domenico Angelo.

Setting up his school in Soho, London, Angelo was the first to lay down the basic tenets of footwork and posture essential for swordfighting and present-day fencing. Later, the Italians, Germans and the French considerably helped in shaping up the rules of fencing before it got inducted as an Olympic sport in 1896.

Fencing at the Olympic Games

Despite its lack of presence and awareness in India, fencing happens to be one of the five sports along with athletics, swimming, cycling and gymnastics to have been a part of every modern Olympics.

Having begun with only the individual men's foil and sabre events in 1896, the individual women's foil, sabre and épée events were added stage-wise much later. Incidentally, the Tokyo Olympics will be the first Games in history to witness the full gamut of fencing events ranging from both team and individual events.

When it comes to fencing, the sport has been largely dominated by the Europeans. Top fencers from Italy, Hungary and France have been produced over the years and they remain as the nations to watch out for, ahead of the Tokyo Olympics as well.

Having bagged as many as 125 medals over the years, Italy tops the list, closely followed by France's haul of 118 medals so far.

Fencing events to look forward to in Tokyo Olympics

Bhavani Devi (left-most) will be competing at Tokyo, Image Credit: @WeAreTeamIndia Twitter Account
Bhavani Devi (left-most) will be competing at Tokyo, Image Credit: @WeAreTeamIndia Twitter Account

The Tokyo Olympics will see fencing events being played out at one of Japan's largest convention centers - the Makuhari Messe. Aside from fencing, this hall will also be hosting taekwondo and wrestling events as well.

For the first time in Olympic history, all 12 events (foil/epee/sabre, women/men, individual/team) will be competed at the Tokyo Olympics. While individual competitions proceed on a single-elimination basis, team events will follow the round-robin format.

The Italian contingent, headed by 2016 Olympic champion Daniele Garozzo, will have to be watched out for. Another to watch is the Russian Federation's Inna Deriglazova, who poses a formidable challenge in the foil category.

Now, with 8-time national champion Bhavani Devi being the first Indian to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics and getting ready to compete in the individual sabre event in Tokyo, fencing will have to be closely followed.


Edited by Rohit Mishra
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