Winter Games

An old sport in a new world

By Michelle Martin & Melanie Reader
Pasadena Academy
Pasadena, Newfoundland

During week one of the Canada Winter Games in Corner Brook, we spent most of our time running from venue to venue watching sports which were foreign to us. One day, we decided that we really wanted to watch fencing. Though the sport has been around for many centuries, it was quite new to the two of us.

As we walked into the gym of Memorial University, it quickly dawned on us that we had no clue about the sport. Luckily, we met Brian McCormack, who coordinated the sports information offices at the Games. He told us that anyone that we asked would be willing to help us understand. That was, of course, if they knew themselves. Behind us we heard many other people trying to figure out what was going on. Obviously, they were in the same boat as us.

We turned around and asked the first person we saw, who just happened to be Jordan Smith, a fencer from Saskatchewan. Considering we were two really confused girls, he sat patiently with us that afternoon and explained the many rules and objectives of the sport.

He started by telling us that there were three different kinds of fencing which are practiced today, each of which is named for the type of sword that is used: épée, foil and saber. The objective of fencing is to touch the specific target with the point of the foil or épée or with the edge and the point of the saber.

The teams brought 15 fencers which included three girls for both of the épée and foil and three guys for each of the épée, foil, saber. At this level of competition, girls do not usually fence in saber.

Épée, foil and saber each have different scoring targets. The épée can touch any part of the body, while foil only touches the torso and saber touches from the hips up, including the arms and the mask.

Most of the fencing that we saw was épée. It is generally very slow because the competitors concentrate primarily on jabbing the épée. Saber was extremely fast because both of the fencers would constantly be running from each other because they could get hit by any part of the saber. Nevertheless, both were extremely exciting to watch.

The épée sword's point is pressed down when a certain amount of pressure is applied to it. This gives the competitor a point because the sword is attached to an electrical body cord which makes the scoring apparatus buzz. This tells the fencer -- and the audience -- that the fencer has gotten a point. This goes on until one of the fencers reaches five points. Then the bout, or match, is over. This is the same for foil but the edge of the saber can touch the opponent.

Another interesting thing that we learned from Jordan is that the presidents or referees talk only in French. This was kind of different for us because we could not always understand what they were saying and what was going on. The president would yell "en guard", which means to stand your guard, and then "aller" which means go, but that was about all that we could understand. Fencing originated in France and that might be why the presidents speak primarily in french. This could also be another reason why the Québec team dominated in most of the fencing that went on during the Canada Winter Games.

The Games taught us many new things that we never knew before and fencing was definitely one of these. It was probably the biggest highlight of our two weeks as reporters. Because of Jordan, we realized how great a sport fencing really is despite the fact that it is not well-known.

We also realized how proud all of the athletes are of their particular sports and how eager they are to get people to understand and enjoy their sport. If you ever get a chance to watch fencing, we both recommend that you do. It is really, really exciting! We liked watching it so much, that we went back to watch a second day of competition!