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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 March, 2004, 19:09 GMT
Beginner's guide to fencing
Foil fencing
Fencing has appeared in every modern Olympic Games
Fencing is one of only five sports that have featured in every Olympic Games since 1896.

Electronic equipment and hi-tech protective clothing are now vital parts of the sport, which requires lightning reflexes and a great deal of tactical nous.

There are three types of fencing weapons: Epee, foil and sabre.

With men and women competing both as individuals and in teams, there will therefore be six fencing disciplines on the Athens Olympic programme.

  • The Epee
    The direct descendant of swords used for duelling, when the object was to draw blood and not deliver the killer blow, and this is reflected in the modern event.

    Only a hit with the tip of the sword, with a pressure exceeding 750 grams, scores a point. A hit on the toe counts the same as one on the body.

  • The Foil
    This is the lightest of the three swords, which makes it difficult to handle.

    Bizarrely, the fencing competition of the 1924 Olympics actually led to a duel. The Italian team had a row over scoring with a Hungarian judge and matters came to a head at the Hungarian border after the Games. Two duels were fought, and wounds inflicted, before spectators fearing for the participants' lives stopped both
    It originated as a training weapon for combat so the scoring area is the torso - the most potentially fatal on the body.

    The tip of the foil must hit the opponent with a pressure exceeding 500 grams. Only the attacking fencer can score a point.

    The defender can only score if the attack misses or is parried, and a counter-attack succeeds.

  • The Sabre
    This weapon is derived from the cavalry sword, designed for slashing and thrusting.

    The target is the entire area from the waist up, including the arms and mask - but not the hand holding the weapon - allowing fencers to use broadside cuts to register points.

    Where the other events require quick, small movements, the sabre involves a more obvious aggression and flamboyant swordplay.

Fencing bouts, consisting of three segments of three minutes, take place on a piste measuring 14 metres by 1.5m, and fencers are connected to an electronic scoring system.

A hit is worth one point, and a light shines on the board indicating who has struck. If the score is tied at the end of the bout, one minute of sudden-death overtime is played.

Teams consist of three fencers, with the first to score a total of 45 hits declared the winner. The first bout ends when a team reaches five points, unless time runs out beforehand.

The second bout finishes at 10 points, the third when 15 is reached and so on until 45 points have been scored or nine bouts completed, whichever comes first.

For the individual events all contestants are seeded, based upon their world ranking, and some receive byes so the first-round field is 32.

The competition continues on the basis of single elimination until the semi-finals, which decide the medal places.

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