Bwog knows that “everyone” has been to a football or basketball game at Columbia, but what about some of our lesser-known sports? Premiering our new Spotlight on Sports series is fencing. How does it work? When can one shout “touché”? If you had a secret British twin, would you beat her in a duel? Expert sword-swoosher  Alexandra Svokos answers some of these questions, and encourages you to come to the Columbia fencers’ final meet at 7 pm tonight.

How to Play

There are three ways to play, named after the weapon used.  They are as follows:

It's kind of like this!

Sabre: the one that looks like the most like sword fighting.  Points are scored by hitting your opponent in a slashing movement with any part of the blade.  Hits must be made within the target area, from the waist up (the silver lamé) including the head.  If both fencers hit at the same time, one point is rewarded based on who had the right of way.  Right of way basically means the fencer is the attacker in action rather than reacting.  It is difficult to determine, especially in fast-paced sabre, so it’s best to just watch the referee.  The blade is light, easy to swing around, and has a large bell guard going around the hand and protecting the knuckles.

Foil: the thinking man’s fencing.  Slower-paced than sabre but has similar rules.  Like sabre, there is a target area but it is smaller – from the waist to the neck not including arms (again, look for the silver lamé).  Unlike sabre, fencers poke their opponent with the tip of the blade.  The tip has a little button on it and touches are made only when the button gets pressed all the way.  Hitting the opponent with the side of the blade does nothing.  Foil also includes right of way and the blade has a small circular guard.

Épée: the one that’s always used in crossword puzzles.  The whole body is the target area!  You can hit a toe and it counts!  Like foil, fencers hit with a poke.  The blade is very heavy and has a large circular guard.  Unlike the former two weapons, there is no right of way.  If both fencers hit each other at the same time, they both get points.


What to Expect

A meet is the entire event.  Individual fights are called “bouts” and go until someone reaches 5 points or 4 minutes has passed.  Sabre bouts finish very quickly while foil and épée can push the time limit.

Fencing has evolved into the modern age.  Fencers are plugged in with a series of wires that connect the weapon, the target area (for foil and sabre), and some machines.  A light will go off every time a completed touch is made.  For foil and sabre, there will be a color light to indicate on-target and a white light to indicate a touch was made off-target.  When any light goes off the action is stopped.

Bouts are fought on a “strip,” a long and thin area.  If a fencer steps off the strip, the action stops and the opponent gets a point.  They start every action at the middle of the strip, unless action has been stopped with an off-target hit in which case it starts wherever the last action stopped.  Fencers cannot cross their legs – the front foot must always be in front.

At the beginning of every bout the referee checks that the fencers’ equipment is working and plugged in.  The fencers salute each other and the director with their blades before taking en garde stance.  On the referee’s command, they begin fencing and continue until the referee says to halt.


Fencing at Columbia

Last April, extremely successful head coach George Kolombatovich retired after 33 years with Columbia. He has been replaced by Michael Aufrichtig, NYU’94, chairman of the New York Athletic Club Fencing. Meanwhile, the fencers have been performing astoundingly across the globe.  This season, the women have been particularly fierce, beating Penn State, Harvard, Northwestern, and Notre Dame last month at the NYU Invitational and St. John’s Super Cup.  At the same events, the men boasted victories over St. John’s and Notre Dame.

Ultimately, fencing is an individual sport, and there are many standouts on the Columbia team.  Freshman Will Spear and sophomore Mel Rodriguez, both sabre, placed second and third, respectively, at the Junior World Cup in Arizona just this weekend.  Last month, Spear won gold at the Portland North American Cup.  Sophomore Alen Hadzic, épée, went 3-0 against St. John’s last month while Bo Charles, foil, went 2-1.  Juniors Loweye and Essane Diedro (twins!) and senior Sammy Roberts placed 12th, 19th, and 21st at the Kansas City North American Cup, an Olympic qualifying event.  Nzingha Prescod is taking a year off to pursue a potential place at the 2012 Olympics and was featured in the October issue of Essence Magazine in the Work & Wealth Power List. Freshman Natalie Gegan, épée, finished 13th in the Under-20 division at the Portland North American Cup.


When can I watch?

Lucky for you, today is the only home meet of the season.  Columbia will take on Sacred Heart, Vassar, and our rival NYU at 4 pm, 5:30 pm, 7 pm respectively in a final meet before the Ivy League Championships this weekend. All events will take place in the Blue Gym in Dodge on the second floor and the first 50 students for the NYU meet at 7 pm will get a free t-shirt.  Check it out!

Ferocious battle via Wikimedia Commons