Wheelchair Fencing

Photo by Raphael Dias/Getty Images
Photo by Raphael Dias/Getty Images

Wheelchair fencing features three different weapons and is played by athletes with lower-body impairment. The sport has featured in every Paralympic Games since Rome 1960.

Tokyo 2020 competition animation "One Minute, One Sport"

We will show you the rules and highlights of wheelchair fencing in one minute. Whether you are familiar with wheelchair fencing or want to know more about it, "One Minute, One Sport" explains the sport and how it works. Watch the video below.

One Minute, One Sport | Wheelchair Fencing
01:19

Overview

Wheelchair fencing is a fast-moving battle of tactics and technique. Athletes compete in wheelchairs that are fixed into a frame fastened to the floor. This gives them freedom of movement in their upper bodies, while keeping them secure in their chairs.

Fencing takes place on a piste measuring 4m x 1.5m. Preparations for each match begin with the fixing of the wheelchairs at a 110-degree angle relative to the centre line in the frames of the piste. The distance between the two fencers is determined by the athlete with the shorter arm reach, who decides if the distance between competitors will be set at the length of their opponent's reach or their own.

Wheelchair fencers wear protective gear including masks, jackets, breeches and gloves. They also use the same electronic scoring system as in Olympic Fencing.

The rules are based on those of the International Fencing Federation (FIE) with amendments appropriate to the needs of the wheelchair fencers. Athletes are divided into two categories (A and B) depending on their functional ability. They compete in three disciplines:

  • Épée: the heaviest weapon and a true dueling sword, the whole body above the hips is a target.
  • Foil: a light weapon derived from the court sword, the target area in foil bouts is the opponent's trunk.
  • Sabre: in sabre, which is derived from the cavalry sword, fencers usually score hits with the edge of the weapon on a target area anywhere above the hips.

The Tokyo 2020 programme will include men's and women's individual events in all three disciplines, as well as team events for épée and foil.

Eligibility to participate in the Paralympic Games is based on rankings, with details subject to revision at each Games. Eligibility to compete at Tokyo 2020 will be determined end of May 2020 at the meeting of the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation.

Athletes can boost their ranking by competing in World Cup events, several of which are held every year, and at Regional and World Championships.

Find out about the details of wheelchair fencing classification

Event Programme

Épée:

  • Category A (Men/Women)
  • Category B (Men/Women)
  • Team (Men/Women)

Foil

  • Category A (Men/Women)
  • Category B (Men/Women)
  • Team (Men/Women)

Sabre

  • Category A (Men/Women)
  • Category B (Men/Women)

Essence of the Sport

Close-quarters competition in customised wheelchairs

Although sword fighting dates back thousands of years, fencing as we now understand it came of age as a sport in the 19th century. Wheelchair fencing developed after World War II at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England, the birthplace of the Paralympic Games.

The sport was used to aid the recovery of spinal cord injury patients who found moving in their wheelchair instilled confidence and increased their core stability.

Because wheelchair fencers cannot use their feet to move back and forth, they are always at close quarters with their opponent. Precise technique is a must, as are intense concentration and resilience.

During a bout, athletes are not allowed to move their hindquarters off the seat of the wheelchair or use their legs to gain an advantage. Consequently, they use chairs that have been highly customised to their physique and impairment.

In individual pool stages, the first fencer to make five hits in three minutes wins. The knockout stages consist of three three-minute bouts, with the first fencer to make 15 hits winning. In competition between teams of three, a match consists of nine bouts with each fencer fencing against each fencer from the other team. Each bout of the relay match consists of 5 hits (5, 10, 15, 20, ... 45) with a maximum time for each bout of 3 minutes. In both individual and team competitions, ties at the end of the match are resolved by sudden death with an extension of the bout by 1 extra minute.

Outlook for the Tokyo 2020 Games

En garde for Paralympic glory

Wheelchair fencing has been historically popular in Europe, with athletes from France and Italy particularly dominant at the Paralympic Games. The People’s Republic of China and Hong Kong, China have also become strong contenders, notably at Rio 2016 where Chinese athletes won six out of ten gold medals in individual events and three of the four team events.

A fencer who attracted particular attention at Rio 2016 was Italian Beatrice Vio. A passionate fencer as a young child, she lost both her legs from the knee, and both her arms from the forearms, due to serious illness at the age of 11. Following a period of rehabilitation and a switch to wheelchair fencing, she began to compete at an elite level and won her first World Cup title at the age of 16. At Rio 2016, Vio won the category B individual foil gold medal and a bronze in the team event.

Trivia

Venues

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