Fencing Facts

(Taken from the US Fencing website)

1.Fencing is one of only four sports to be included in every modern Olympic Games, since the first in 1896. Albertson Van Zo Post of the New York Fencers Club led our early Olympic efforts by winning 5 Olympic medals in the 1904 St. Louis Olympics including 2 gold medals (1 team, 1 individual).

2.Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympic Games, was a fencer.

3. The tip of the fencing weapon is the second fastest moving object in sport; the first is the marksman’s bullet.

4. Fencing is conducted on a 14m x 2m “strip” or “piste” to replicate combat in confined quarters such as a castle hallway. The end of the fencing strip represents the line drawn in the earth by duelists’ seconds: to retreat behind this line during the duel indicated cowardice and loss of honor. Foil is the only weapon that has always had “strip” rules.  For many years, epee and saber fencers could move about with no restrictions.

5. The 750 gram weight test used to ensure a touch is scored with sufficient force is based on the amount of tension required to break the skin. In a duel, honor was done when blood was first drawn — even if from a minor wound such as a blister.

6. The target area in sabre, originally a cavalry weapon, is from the waist up because it is contrary to the rules of chivalry to injure an opponent’s horse.  The rules in saber changed for one season in 1903 to forbid hits with the point.  And from 1908 – 1915 saber fencers were awarded 2 points for a riposte.

7. There was no time limit on a fencing bout in our 1st US Championships in 1888 until 1897 when 4 minutes became the limit in foil and saber.  Epee  (then called dueling sword) had no time limit until 1915 with a 5-minute bout and a 2-minute overtime for tiebreaker.   The number of touches required to win a bout in fencing has varied over the years from 1 to 3 to 4 to 5 to 100 points awarded by a meeting of the judges. Today, the time limit has been reduced to just 3 minutes for 5-touch bouts and 9 minutes for 15 touches.

8. Fencers wear white uniforms because before the advent of electronic scoring, touches were recorded on the usually white surface with a wad of ink-soaked cotton on the tips of the weapons.  But since our first Nationals in 1888 rules on the colors required of uniforms  (then called “suits” or “costumes”) varied from “dark colors” to “white with black stitching” to “any color” from 1897 to the early 1900′s.  Our rules even required foil fencers to have buckskin or chamois covering the front of the jacket  (1900).

9. Famous Fencers: President Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill (high school champion of England), Cornell Wilde, Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of Iron Maiden – foil. Vigo Mortensen, Tony Curtis, Neil Diamond, entertainer – sabre. Jimmy Buffett, singer.  Prince Albert of Monaco – sabre. Andrew Jackson fought a duel of honor with swords. General George Patton was a member of U.S. Olympic Fencing and Pentathlon teams in the 1912 Olympics and once owned a riding crop with a blade in the handle made by Georgio Santelli, New York fencing instructor and equipment manufacturer. Movie stars Jerry O’Connell – saber, Madonna, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Tom Cruise, Boris Karloff, Will Smith, Dennis Haysbert, and surprisingly, soccer star David Beckham!

10. The Boston Fencing Club, New York Fencers Club and New York Athletic Club all began robust fencing programs in the 1880′s.   America’s first fencing community developed in New Orleans in the 1700′s and flourished throughout the 1800′s and they failed to become a part of the United States Fencing Association (AFLA).  The USFA had strict rules about amateurism and all of the New Orleans clubs were mixing professionals from all over the world and offering cash prizes.  New Orleans stayed separated until the 1940′s.

11. The first electronic scoring machine for fencing that was approved for the Olympic Games was invented in 1936 by Hugh Alessandroni, Alfred Skrobisch and George Baker (Columbia University).

12. In April 2003, Men’s Saber Keeth Smart became only the 2nd United States Fencer to achieve a Number 1 World Ranking. He was quickly joined by Sada Jacobson, who claimed the Number 1 spot in Women’s Saber going into the Athens Games.  Joe Levis (Boston) entered the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games ranked #1 following his 1932 Olympic silver medal and the retirement of the gold medalist.

13. Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore.) is the first U.S. woman fencer in the world to hold four World Championships titles in one season: 2001 Cadet World Champion, 2001 Junior World Champion, 2001 Junior Team Champion, and 2000 Women’s Sabre Team World Champion.

14. Women’s Foil was added to the events at the Olympic Games in 1924. Women’s Epee was added in 1996. The 2004 Olympic Game in Athens, Greece was the first time that Women’s Sabre was an official part of the Olympic program.  United States Fencers Mariel Zagunis and Sada Jacobson won Gold and Bronze in the women’s sabre event at Athens.

15. Athens was the first Olympics in 100 years at which the United States won a gold medal in fencing.  And it was the 20 year anniversary of the last bronze medal, which was won in 1984 by Peter Westbrook- men’s sabre.  The last individual foil medal for the United States was won in 1960 by Albert Axelrod (bronze) who is also the only US foil fencer in history to achieve a World Championships final  (1958).

16. Fencing is the only combat sport with no weight classes.

For more facts about US Fencing history, contact the USFA historian, Andy Shaw, atmailto:andy@museumofamericanfencing.com

 

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