Olympic Primer: How to Watch Fencing

Your cheat sheet for watching fencing at the Olympics

By Andrew Wine
|  Monday, Jul 30, 2012  |  Updated 7:47 AM CDT
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Athletes to Watch: London 2012

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Fencing is as much finesse as it is speed.

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When it happens:
July 28 to Aug. 5

How it became a sport:
Sword fighting has been a method of combat and entertainment for centuries. Popular in medieval Spain, the sport spread as the Spanish explored and conquered new lands. The non-lethal version practiced at the Olympics came about in the 1800s in Italy and has been a staple of the Summer Olympics since 1896.

What it takes:
Superior footwork and fast thinking is key. The ability to out-think your opponent and to decide where to strike next before your opponent can strike is most pivotal. There are three different types of fencing, determined by the kind of weapon used: Epee, Foil and Sabre (see "Lingo" below).

How you win:
Two individuals compete in three 3-minute “bouts." Each time a fencer makes contact with his opponent, a wireless unit tallies the hits. At the end of the ninth round, the individual with the most hits wins and moves on to the next round. Blocking a target or stepping out of the field of play will result in docked points. A referee judges each “bout” with the assistance of a video referee.

Epee: the closest the sport has to an actual dueling sword, it’s the heaviest weapon and in its class of competition, your opponent’s entire body is a valid target.

Foil: A light sword, with strict “right-of-way” rules; can only strike opponent in torso.

Sabre: A derivation of the cavalry sword, competitors usually strike with the edges of the Sabre anywhere above the waist.

Bout: One 3-minute long competition

Parry: Defensive maneuver to block an aggressive movement by your opponent

Riposte: Scoring a hit after executing a parry

Piste: Field of play

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