En garde!

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 February, 2008, 12:00am

Pret! Ready!

Take the swashbuckling sword fights from Pirates of the Caribbean, add definite rules and you have Olympic fencing, one of the four sports that have appeared at every modern Olympic Games. Fencing developed from traditional swordsmanship used in duels and battle. Today it is a highly skilled sport with its own governing body and championship matches all over the world. Fencing competitions take place between two opponents in an area 14 metres long and 2m wide using three different types of sword. Points are given for hits to specified parts of the body. Hits are recorded electronically from sensors in the protective clothing that fencers wear. Fencing is quick, exciting and skilful. It may be a minority sport but it offers just as many thrills as any of the Olympic big boys.


1 What does 'swashbuckling' mean?

a) behaving in a daring and exciting way, like a fighter from the past

b) being very weak and boring

Allez! Go!

Olympic fencing has a very strict set of rules that show the grace and skill of the sport. To begin a bout, the fencers walk into the fencing area dressed in their protective clothing and carrying their helmet. They salute the referee and each other. The bout begins when the referee gives a signal. The referee stops a bout when a hit is scored and the fencers return to their starting lines. Fencing bouts are timed. The clock starts when the referee calls 'allez!' and stops when he shouts 'halte!' There are set times or score limits for different fencing bouts. At Olympic level, refereeing is carried out in French, the official language of international fencing.


2 What is a 'bout'?

a) the last part of a sporting contest

b) a set period in a sport contest like boxing, wrestling or fencing

The swords - and a point to prove for fencers

Three different types of sword are used in Olympic fencing. The foil is a light, flexible weapon, 90 centimetres long. The target area for the foil is the opponent's torso. The epee, a heavier sword also 90cm long, is a thrusting weapon like the foil. But the target area for the epee is the whole of the body. To score a hit, the fencer must hit the target area on his opponent's body with the point of his sword. The sabre (88cm long) is a cutting weapon and points are scored with the edges and surfaces of the blade as well as the tip. The target area for the sabre is anywhere above the waist except the hands and the back of the head. Electric swords are used in competitive fencing. Fencers wear touch-sensitive clothing that allows the scoring machine to record hits.


3 What is the 'torso'?

a) the upper part of the body between the waist and the neck

b) the lower part of the body between the waist and the feet

Olympic Fact File

Match up the two parts of these statements about fencing and copy them into your Olympic Fact File.

1 Three different sorts of sword

2 The foil and the epee are

3 Fencing is one of the four

4 Today fencers wear

5 Refereeing in fencing is

a) sports that have featured in every modern Olympiad

b) carried out in French

c) electronically sensitive clothing

d) are used in Olympic fencing competitions

e) thrusting swords


1. a, 2. b, 3. a

Olympic fact file: 1. d, 2. e, 3. a, 4. c, 5. b