12 Facts About Fencing

10th February 2011

1. Three weapons are used in fencing: foil – introduced in the mid-17th century as a practice weapon, epee – derived from the duelling sword, and sabre – derived from the cavalry sword.
2. Fencing is one of only five sports to have taken place at every modern Olympics, along with Athletics, Cycling, Gymnastics and Swimming. 
3. France and Italy are the most successful fencing nations, France having won 120 Olympic medals (44 gold) and Italy 113 (45 gold).
4. The Italian Nedo Nadi holds the record for the most fencing gold medals in one Olympics. At the Antwerp Games of 1920 he won the individual titles at foil and sabre, but withdrew from the epee to rest himself for the team event. Italy then won all three team gold medals, giving Nadi a total of five to add to the two he had won eight years earlier in Stockholm.
5. Britain won individual silver medals at the first three Olympics to include women’s foil: Gladys Davis in 1924, Muriel Freeman in 1928 and Judy Guinness in 1932. Guinness sacrificed the gold medal by twice acknowledging hits in perhaps the greatest act of sporting behaviour in Olympic history.
6. The only person in any sport to win Olympic gold medals at six consecutive Games was the Hungarian fencer Aladar Gerevich. He won them in the sabre team event from 1932 to 1960 (the longest medal-winning span by any Olympian) and also won the individual gold medal in 1948, equalling Nadi’s record of seven gold medals. The leading woman gold medallist is Valentina Vezzali of Italy with five. She is also the only fencer to win individual gold at three consecutive Olympic Games (2000-2008).
7. The earliest known surviving treatise on fencing, stored at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, England, dates from around 1300 AD and is from Germany. Written in medieval Latin and German, it describes a system of using the sword and buckler (small shield) and is illustrated by over 100 ink and watercolour drawings.
8. The world’s oldest fencing club is the Confrérie de Saint-Michel, which was established in 1613 in Ghent, Belgium, where it still meets twice a week in the 17th century tower that has been its home for nearly 400 years.
9. An 18th century French traveller in India once came across a fencing master who had taught some elephants to fence foil using their trunks. They were so quick that no man could defeat them. Once, he armed two of them with sharp swords and they proceeded to wound each other severely, but, reported the traveller, they continued at all times to observe the rules taught by their master.
10. Domenico Angelo, who made fencing fashionable in England when he was appointed fencing master to George III and his sons, had an income equivalent to about £250,000 a year at the peak of his popularity.
11. The longest recorded bout took place at the Paris international epee tournament of 1897 where there was no time limit and fights were for one hit, broken up into fencing periods of 5 minutes followed by 2 minutes rest. Two Frenchmen fought for 1 hour 25 minutes without scoring, broke for lunch and continued for a further 25 minutes before one of them finally made a hit that was seen by the judges – a total of 2½ hours including rest periods.
12. Today fencing is practised in around 43,000 clubs in over 140 countries by more than 1.5 million people – half in Europe, 35% in America, 10% in Asia and 5% in Africa.

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