By Georgia Grimond, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Rio has had its swords at the ready for the past week, having hosted a two-part Olympic test event in fencing. The city first welcomed fencers from all over the world for the Rio Grand Prix before the Team World Championships took place in the Carioca Arena 3 in the Olympic Park in Barra da Tijuca.
Fencing is contested with three different weapons, dividing competitions into the épée, the foil and the sabre disciplines. Fencers tend to specialize in only one, but not always.
The last of the season’s épée events took place last week (April 23rd – 24th) with 64 fencers participating in the Grand Prix. Xu Anqi, the world number one, appeared to suffer a low-back injury during the competition and was defeated by Tatiana Logunova from Russia in the women’s individual épée title event.
“I’m very happy and I hope to see you again in Rio at the Olympic Games,” Logunova told Inside the Games. “My coach said if you are not sure what to do, stay passive, and get your touches that way.” With two team gold medals under her belt, the Russian will be looking to secure another at this year’s Olympics.
On Sunday, after a close fight between Bogdan Nikishin from Ukraine and Benjamin Steffen from Switzerland, the Ukrainian walked away with the men’s title. Steffen conceded the last point for unsportsmanlike behaviour leaving Nikishin to return to Rio in August.
Expatriate Mike Michalski began fencing when he was 14 in his native Poland. At the time the country was third in the world and he says the sport “infected” him and has since followed him around the world. Now, living in Rio, Michalski trains at the Military Club Jardim Botânico. At the Grand Prix, he was part of a four-man Polish team that was knocked out in the late stages direct elimination phase of the épée event.
“For me personally it was a good come back and eye opener that made me realize how the level of world fencing has changed, evolved and developed. I wont’ be taking part in the Olympics in Rio but Tokyo 2020 not that far away, I will be training hard and only time will tell.”
Despite noting that many of the seats were empty during the event, Michalski says that fencing is great sport to watch. “In regards to the speed, the technique and the way people fence it is a spectator’s sport, it becomes something that people get excited to watch.”
“It’s a sport for idealists for thinkers,” he adds. “Sometimes one hit makes you realize that you have still so much to learn. It teaches you dignity and teaches you respect for your opponents that very easily gets translated to business life.”
It was a disappointing result for famous Italian fencer, Valentina Vezzali. Her team was defeated in the final by the Russians, 45-39. After a long career, six Olympic golds and 16 world golds the veteran fencer hung up her sword and retired from the sport after the event.
The Carioca 3 Arena features a new piste shaped like a cross. The design will enable up to four competitions to happen simultaneously and offer spectators in the stands excellent views of the action.