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68OLYMPIC REVIEWSPORTSPROFILES

For latest news go to www.fie.ch or www.olympic.orgOLYMPIC REVIEW69At just 19 years old, MarielZagunis bridged a 100-yeargap in the women's sabre inAthens. She beat Tan Xue, of China, 15-9, to win theUnited States a gold medal in fencing for the first timesince Albertson van der Postat the St Louis Games in1904. As Zagunis triumphed,she was at first lost for words: "I don't even know what to say right now,"she said, before adding: "I'm so happy."France won team gold inthe men's épée, inspired bybrothers Fabrice and JeromeJeannet in a 43-32 defeatover Hungary. Defendingchampions Russia retainedthe women's team épée with a 34-28 victory overGermany.When Timea Nagy, ofHungary, won the women'sépée for the second Games insuccession, she insisted shewould not be back for Beijing.Nagy, who beatFrance's LauraFlessel-Colovic, 15-10, said: "I won't be goingto the next Games. I want to concentrate on increasingmy family. I will speak with my husband and decidewhat to do."Times change, and thelure of the Olympic Gameshas seen the mother-of-twonow planning to chase a hat-trick of Olympic titles in2008, when she will be 38years old.Fencing is one the few sports that have beenpart of all editions of the modern OlympicGames. The sport of fencing today is thedevelopment of a form of combat that waspractised as long ago as 1190 BC, as depictedby carvings in the temple of Madinet-Habu nearLuxor in Egypt. While the majority of Olympicsports remained amateur until 30 years ago,fencing recognised professionals as early as the1896 Athens Games, when Baron Pierre deCoubertin made special arrangements for thoseknown as the "masters" to take part. Women'sfencing made its debut with the foil at the ParisGames in 1924. The sport has three differentelements; the foil, the épée and the sabre.Women's épée and sabre were introduced at the1996 Atlanta and 2004 Athens Gamesrespectively. The foil has a flexible blade,compared to the épée where competitors muststrike with the tip of the tougher blade. Thesabre has an edged tip and just touching youropponent with the blade earns a hit. Below: An épée bout from the 1928 GamesFORMATWith 10 gold medals on offer, the main changefor Beijing sees women's team foil and women'steam sabre replacing men's team foil andwomen's team épée. Men's team épée hasbeen selected while a vote for the second men'steam event made by members of the FédérationInternationale d'Escrime (FIE) saw sabreselected ahead of foil by 45 votes to 20. Eachcompetition has a single-elimination format.Teams consist of three fencers, and each oneduels each member of the opposing team.Eight countries progress to the Games: thetop four in the world rankings as of 31 March2008 and the other half being the highestranked teams from the Americas, Europe,Asia/Oceania and Africa, excluding those whohad already qualified. In Beijing, for the first time in the history ofOlympic fencing, a new video refereeing systemwill be used. VENUEFencing will take place at the NationalConference Centre, which will be one of thebusiest areas during the Games. Not only will italso be staging the fencing and shootingdisciplines of the modern pentathlon, it is alsothe home to the International Broadcast Centreand the Main Press Centre. The centre is in theOlympic Green, the 1,135 hectare area wherehalf of the venues, including the NationalStadium and the Olympic Village are based. It isa temporary venue - once the Games are over,Beijing authorities plan to use the facilities forexhibitions and conventions.CONTENDERSAn interesting pattern is emerging in thecountdown to Beijing: at the 2006 WorldFencing Championships that were staged inTurin in September andOctober 2006, being thecurrent Olympic championdid not guarantee furthersuccess. Wang Lei, of China,won a silver medal in the épée at Athens2004 but went one better at the WorldChampionships to establish an importantmarker before his country hosts the Games.He beat Joaquim Videira, of Portugal, 6-5 inthe final. France dominated the men's teamevents, winning all three classes.The women's sabre showed fencing is asport where youth is no barrier. Zagunis wasbeaten by her 17-year-old teammate RebeccaWard 15-11 in the final. Ward completed anamazing 2006 when she secured world titlesin the cadet, junior, junior team and seniordivisions, but Zagunis remains the world No. 1on rankings. Their duel in Beijing could besomething special.Losing to a teammate was nothing new atthe World Championships because in the foil,Italy's Valentina Vezzali, the Olympic championin Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004, wasbeaten 7-6 by Margherita Granbassi.Above: Wang Lei, men's épée WorldChampion and Athens silver medallistBelow: Wang (crouching) on the attackATHENSREVIEWFENCING