The History of Fencing in the Olympics

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Swordplay has been around for millennia, and the sport of fencing was birthed hundreds of years ago. Although there was no sword fighting in the Ancient Olympics, fencing was one of the few sports in the first modern Olympics.

Ever since the first summer Olympics in 1896, fencing has been a steady favorite as it’s made an appearance every four years.

There are three forms of fencing held in the Olympics; épée, foil, and sabre (saber). For each contest, there are both individual men, women, and teams. Previously, there had been masters competitions for each, as well as a singlestick fencing competition in 1904.

There have been hundreds of fencers participating in the summer fencing games since its birth. Olympic fencing has had more participants than popular American sports like basketball. With no less than 40 countries participating within the last 30 years, fencing is huge. 

Current events: 12

  • Individual men’s sabre, epee, foil
  • Team men’s sabre, epee, foil
  • Individual women’s sabre, epee, foil
  • Team women’s sabre, epee, foil

Discontinued events: 5

  • Epee, foil, sabre, masters
  • Epee, amateurs-masters
  • Singlestick
The Beginning of Olympic Fencing

The Beginning of Olympic Fencing

The first-ever modern summer Olympics (known as The Games of the Olympiad) was held in April 1896, in Athens, Greece.

These Olympic games consisted of 280 male athletes from 12 countries. All male. With 43 events, the only sports played were track and field, cycling, swimming, gymnastics, weightlifting, wrestling, tennis, shooting, and of course, fencing.

The three fencing events during the first Summer Olympics were individual foil and sabre, and masters foil fencing. 

Masters fencing was included for each of the three swords in the following Olympics. The point of adding a master competition was to separate professional fencing athletes from the rookies. However, this stopped immediately after, as there hasn’t been a masters event since 1900.

A strange form of fencing was also implemented only in the year 1904, using a weapon called singlestick. Which is basically, yeah, fencing with a stick…

Since then, every sword has been featured in the Olympics. Except for 1908 in London, where the only excluded weapon was the foil.

Moving on to 1924, where women’s fencing was finally introduced, with one event, being individual foil. Which grew slowly compared to men’s fencing, as there haven’t been events for individuals and teams in each fencing event yet. This is expected to change in the next Olympics.

Clearly, fencing was a huge hit back then, and won’t be leaving us any time soon!

Olympic Swords

Although there are several different styles of sword fighting throughout the world, there have only really ever been four swords in the Olympics.

The only Olympics sword fighting there has ever been is fencing. Even dating back to the Ancient Olympics, there were never any weapons involved.

Making its first appearance in 1896 was the first-ever Olympic swords were the sabre and foil. Followed by the epee in 1900, and singlestick in 1904. Since then, no weapons were added, and no sports involving swords were added either.

So the only three current Olympic swords are the beloved épée, sabre (saber), and foil.

Modern Olympic Fencing

Olympic fencing today is huge. Having pistes designed with colorful led lighting and designs. Fencing games nowadays are epic.

Compared to the beginning of the Olympics, fencing has gained popularity immensely.  Having no more than 5 events for the first 20 years, fencing today has a total of 24 events, 40+ nations, and 200+ fencers.

Fencing competitions at today’s Olympics usually take place for about a week. Using the epee, foil, sabre, for women and men; both individual and team events (total 24).

Fencing, in general, is advancing away from being just a niche sport, as Olympic fencers gain sponsors from Nike, the most popular sporting companies in the world, and inspiring Nike’s fencing campaign. Fencing is booming.

Some popular sponsors for US fencing include Nike, IHG, and United Airlines. Fencers can personalize their gear with names, sponsors, and their nation’s flag.

Olympic Fencing Teams

Over 100 nations have competed in Olympic fencing at least once over the years, yet time and again the elite fencing countries stay the same.

Some of the best fencers come from countries where fencing has been around for hundreds of years (no wonder).

With a whopping 48 gold medals over the years, France is at the top of the fencing game. Followed by Italy with 41, and Hungary with 37. Russia and Germany follow these teams closely.

As you might guess, when ranking countries by a total number of medals, the order looks the same. And looking at the top 8 fencers in the world, they’re either from Italy or Hungary (surprisingly they’re not French).

Today’s best fencer, however, is from Italy. A man named Edoardo Mangiarotti holds the record of 13 medals, including 6 golds. Compared to Aladár Gerevich with 7 golds, but only 10 total.

Edoardo, a master of the blade, won a total of 39 Olympic titles and World championships, which separate him as the best overall, of all time. Although he passed away at the age of 93 in 2012, he is still remembered as the best at the sport and stays unbeaten.

Not surprising that these countries are like the founding forefathers of fencing. Especially Germany, Italy, and France, the creators of fencing, who are responsible for what we know as fencing today.

Olympic Fencing Team

Over a century ago the Olympics began in Athens, and with it began Olympic fencing. Speaking for the fencing community, it’s great to see how far fencing has come.

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