The Paralympic sport of Wheelchair Fencing features three different weapons, 100 athletes – and plenty of action.
Although sword fighting dates back thousands of years, Fencing as we now understand it came of age as a sport in the 19th century. Developed in the years after World War II at Stoke Mandeville, the birthplace of the Paralympic Games, Wheelchair Fencing is a fierce, fast-moving battle of tactics and technique.
Tuesday 4 September – Saturday 8 September
Number of medal events
12 – men’s and women’s Individual Epée and Foil over categories A and B, and men’s Sabre over categories A and B, and a men’s and women’s Open Team.
Number of competitors
100: 60–76 men and 24–40 women
Each country is limited to six men and four women, including a limit of two athletes in each event.
A and B – athletes in the B category have an impairment with a greater impact on their functional ability.
Field of play
Fencing takes place on a piste, or strip. Athletes compete in wheelchairs that are fastened to the floor. This gives them freedom of movement in their upper bodies, while keeping them fixed in their chairs. The length of the playing area is determined by the athlete with the shorter arm reach, who decides if the distance between competitors will be set at the length of their opponent’s reach or their own.
Three types of weapon are used in Wheelchair Fencing. In bouts using the Foil and the slightly heavier Epée, hits are scored by hitting an opponent with the tip of the weapon. In Sabre, hits may also be scored with the edge of the weapon.
The target area for the Foil is limited to the opponent’s torso, while competitors in the Sabre and Epée events may be struck anywhere above the waist.
Fencers wear masks, jackets, gloves and a scoring wire.
Hits are recorded electronically using apparatus that connects the fencer’s weapon to the main scoring system.
For a complete set of rules, please refer to the website of the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS), governing body for the sport.
A referee oversees each bout. The referee is assisted by two judges, who sit either side of the piste. Officials also include timekeepers and scorers.
Keys to success
Wheelchair Fencing is a fast, tense sport. Fencers must use all their wits and quick thinking to outplay their opponent, judging the right amount of attacking and defensive moves to outwit the opposition.
Breaking the rules
A wrong move can see valuable points taken away or awarded to the opposition. The referee will be looking out for infringements, such as weapons touching the floor once a bout is underway, hitting with the wrong part of the weapon, or hitting outside the target area. An athlete’s foot must not leave the chair’s foot rest or use the floor for advantage, and the athlete must remain seated at all times.
Epée – the heaviest weapon and a true duelling sword: the whole body is a target, and opposing fencers can score simultaneous hits by landing their points at the same time.
Foil – a light weapon derived from the court sword, the Foil has very strict right-of-way and timing rules. The target area in foil bouts is the opponent’s torso.
Sabre – in contests involving the Sabre, which is derived from the cavalry sword, fencers may score hits with the edge and the tip of the blade on a target area limited to anywhere above the waist – this is because it was once considered ungentlemanly to hit an opponent’s horse!
If you want to find out about Wheelchair Fencing in your country, including clubs, facilities and coaching schemes, check the website of your National Governing Body for Wheelchair Fencing. To find out how you can get involved in Wheelchair Fencing in the UK, go to thegamesandbeyond.com
For more information on the Wheelchair Fencing competition at London 2012 and the rules of the sport, go to the website of the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS), governing body for the sport.