MatchPint Olympics: Fencing and the art of a Duel
If badminton is all about speed, agility and athleticism, then fencing is full of guile, precision and quickness. What's more, you'll be wanting to head on down to the Excel Arena in order to get your full quota as the World's finest swordsmiths do battle amidst the cantankerous atmosphere of Olympic fencing. All the while, they will be focussing on executing the five s' of Fencing: "Scythe, swat, swish, swash and scythe".
London 2012 will see 212 pirate-wannabes compete in 10 events, with men and women competing both as individuals and teams using one of three different swords - the foil (lightest), the epee (heaviest) and the sabre (most likely to be found in hands of Cap'n Jack Sparrow). Similar to its more physically brutal though weaponless cousin, Boxing, fencing is scored by points following a successful hit, or touche. In the foil and epee, hits are scored with the tip of the blade but fencers are given free rein to scythe through rival scallywags with the whole of their sword in the sabre. Each bout consists of three rounds of three minutes, though a round is won should a fencer gain 15 hits before the opponent.
Given the "mano a mano" nature of the sport, it won't surprise you to learn that Olympic Fencing history has its fair old share of skullduggery. Controversy dogged the 1924 Olympics in Paris with at least two bouts descending into real life duels over 'matters of honour'. In the first, an Italian-born Hungarian fencing master, Italo Santelli, stepped in and translated a heated exchange between Italian fencers and Hungarian line judges. His literal translation sparked riotous scenes and accusations that the Hungarian coach had inflamed the comments in order to unsettle the Italians. Disgusted at this slight against his honour, Santelli challenged the Italian captain, Adolfo Contronei, to a duel.
The tension was felt internationally, with number one Darjeeling fan, Italian dictator Mussolini, lifting his country's embargo on duelling in order to allow the fight to take place. In the event, however, professional worm Santelli decided that he was too old at 60 to take part and transferred in his son as a replacement. The transfer worked well as Georgio Santelli drew blood after two or three minutes and honour was satisfied. The line judge involved in the initial dispute, mysteriously named Kovacs, is rumoured to have been embroiled in a similar duel after punching a rival Italian judge. He refused to comment when MatchPint contacted him recently.
Since then, and indeed since the first modern Olympics in 1896, fencing has been dominated by Italy, Hungary and the country to which the sport owes most of its terminology, France. Between them, they account for more than half of almost 600 fencing medals. However,though Hungary's glory days came largely in men's sabre fencing during the early 20th Century, France and, in particular, Italy are still leaders in the sport, occupying the top two places in both Athens and Beijing. Moreover, the Italians look the real team to beat at 2012 having won four of the ten Olympic events at the 2011 World Championships, held in Sicily.
And what of us plucky Brits? Well, I'd love to say that the weather's set fair and we're going full sail ahead but with only one Olympic gold to our name and no medal since 1964, the omens aren't good. That said, with the chance for more skullduggery on the horizon what better time to call upon the memory of Gillian Sheen and weigh-in down a pub showing the Olympics near you for a scythe of your own.
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