My Olympic Love Affair: Fencing

Written by Stephen Jones - 10 Aug 2012

Fencing is one of those cool and unusual sports that, despite being included in every modern Olympics, hasn’t regained the popularity it once had in the UK. Anyone who’s ever enjoyed a sword fight on film or stage will love fencing, although the sport requires a quite different skill set.

I took up fencing during my time at the University of Birmingham as some friends were fencers. Birmingham also hosted the Midlands fencing club so I got double lessons for three years! I started fencing too late for serious competition (most start before age ten), but made the University team and took a few scalps at regional competitions.

The commentary box: fencing at London 2012

I was lucky enough to get tickets to the women's team epee qualifying rounds on 4 August at the Excel Arena.

Fencing’s a difficult sport to watch as it’s so fast – some of the top-level international fencers are so quick that the high-speed replay is the only way of seeing what’s happened. Keeping track of multiple matches occurring was a little tricky, but the Excel Arena had the largest number of screens of any Olympic venue so you could always see a replay of a spectacular hit, or check which countries were edging closer to qualification.

The atmosphere was incredible; I was sat near to South Korean and USA fans who were having their own chanting contest to support the epee teams.

Between bouts, organisers had mini-fencing lessons for kids running in the arena with plastic swords designed for training: hopefully this should encourage more people to take up the sport.

My Olympic icon

British fencing has languished for decades and although there were outside hopes for Richard Kruse to medal after solid performances in the European and World championships, he was overwhelmed on the day. Much dignity has been restored from the team events though: Italy is on a charge to regain their dominance of the sport but got pushed to the wire by Team GB in foil, which is definitely encouraging.

Meanwhile at other Olympic venues…

The great thing about this year’s coverage is being spoiled for choice. I’ve been able to flit about and watch a lot of other sports on the BBC iPlayer, although I still don’t see the justification of beach volleyball outfits in chilly London weather. Real women wear Kevlar.

Fencing’s a fast game but I’ve been left open-mouthed at the reaction speed of the badminton doubles teams. Getting back from a wonderful atmosphere in London to watch Ennis, Rutherford and Farah claim gold in the evening was also a pretty perfect end to an Olympic weekend experience.