Giant on the move
Beautiful, baffling and bewildering
I’ll admit that I’m not a professional sports journalist, but I like to think of myself as a decent amateur watcher of sport.
As an American living in London, I’ve even fallen deeply in love with cricket. Fencing, however, foxes me completely.
It all sounds so marvellous:
“Take the romantic, swashbuckling epics of Errol Flynn, add some rules, protective clothing and an electronic scoring system, and you have fencing at the Olympic Games. Two rivals stand opposite each other and feint, lunge, parry and riposte until one scores the required number of hits to win” — so says the official Beijing Olympics website.
The photographs are even more alluring to me. White-suited warriors stand out sharply from pitch-black backgrounds; metal swords gleam; alien-looking bodies are captured in a state of grace.
In person, the venue oozes with romance — hall lights off, the heavy humid air envelopes all. The fencers emerge, swaddled from top to bottom in electrified suits designed to record every hit. They put on their masks. The referee, wearing a powder-blue jacket, puts them en garde and we get three minutes of violent dance-like movements: thrust, parry, fleche, reprise, riposte and goodness knows what else.
On contact, the electronic lights flash, the contestants let off wild almost inhuman screams, and the referee glances at a slow-motion replay before contorting his body into a an arcane gesture indicating analysis and scoring.
I must admit, on almost every single contact I witnessed I couldn’t figure out who should have been awarded the point — and when I guessed the referee was invariably of an opposite view.
After a while, baffled and confused — but still entranced by the beauty — I left, knowing that at least one more career route is now closed off to me.
Photo: Giovanna Trillini of Italy (L) competes against Nam Hyunhee of South Korea during their women’s individual foil fencing semi-finals at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, August 11, 2008. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini