Olympic fencing: Differences between the foil, épée and sabre

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CHIBA, JAPAN - JULY 25: Amita Berthier of Team Singapore competes against Lee Kiefer of Team United States in Women's Individual Foil first round on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Makuhari Messe Hall on July 25, 2021 in Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images,)
CHIBA, JAPAN - JULY 25: Amita Berthier of Team Singapore competes against Lee Kiefer of Team United States in Women's Individual Foil first round on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Makuhari Messe Hall on July 25, 2021 in Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images,)

Speed, energy, and precision are what defines top-level fencing, one of only a handful of sports that have been featured in every modern Olympics since 1896.

There are three disciplines of fencing: foil, épée and sabre. According to historical records, the foil started from military training, the épée was developed from swordsmanship duels, and the sabre can be traced back to the cavalry. 

Each discipline has its own specific targets and rules, as well as different competitive characteristics:

● Foil

The foil, which weighs about 500g, is the lightest among the three weapons, and the weapon of choice for most beginners. A foil fencer scores only by hitting the opponent's torso with the blade tip. As the foil is lighter and has fewer targets than both épée and sabre, it demands better techniques and strategies.

● Épée

The major difference between foil and épée is that the épée is heavier and has a larger target area. The fencer scores a touché when the weapon tip or blade touches the opponent's head, limbs or torso.

In competitions, only stabs, not slashes, are allowed. Defence is essential – as the whole body is a valid target area, fencers need to be highly skilled to fend off their opponents' attacks. As the fencers shift back-and-forth between attack and defence, the épée match has the slowest pace among the three disciplines.

● Sabre

The sabre is also known as the soldier's sword. In competitions, you can thrust and cut your opponent, and the target area is everywhere above the waist (including the head and armpits).

As the sabre discipline has a large range of movements, and demands quick and strong attacks, the fencers' footwork and responses to strategy changes are key to winning.

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Tokyo Olympics Fencing Competitions

When: 14 July 24 to 1 August

Events: Épée, Foil, Sabre (Men's, Women's, Team)

Medals: 12

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