En garde! Fencing is out to foil doubters at the Olympics
WHEN it comes to Olympic sports, fencing is perhaps not the most popular in this country.
But that could all change if Britain are successful at this summer's Olympic Games, according to Steve Paul, who has been to five Olympic Games himself as an athlete and a coach.
He said: "It is certainly more popular at the moment because of the Olympics.
"There is a lot more interest [in the sport], but we need a medal [to increase the popularity].
And what of Britain's chances on home soil this year?
Well, Paul believes there are a couple of hopes, including the possibility of a team medal and an individual one, with 24-year-old Londoner Richard Kruse in with a shout at his home Games.
Kruse, who has held the British title at cadet, junior and senior levels, has been Britain's top foilist for several years and reached the quarter-finals of the Olympic competition in Athens in 2004 – Britain's best fencing performance at a Games for 40 years.
But Paul, who twice finished 13th in Olympic competition, believes it will require a medal-winning performance to help drive the sport.
He said that like him, many fencers enter the sport by way of a family tradition, adding that he started when he was six, becoming the third generation of his family to participate in fencing.
He went on to be the most successful member of his family, as a five-time British champion and a Commonwealth gold medallist, while he competed at the Moscow, Los Angeles and Barcelona Olympics.
He then went on to coach at two further Games and now coaches at the Royal Tunbridge Wells Fencing Club, which meets on Mondays and Thursdays.
Between 10 and 15 people regularly attend these sessions, which cost £10 each, including 81-year-old Donald Coe, who is understood to be the fourth oldest fencer in the UK.
And Paul says that the likes of Coe and three intrepid sports reporters from the Sevenoaks Chronicle – Glenn Garrett, Rob Warlow and Jamie Rose – prove that anyone can participate in the sport.
Alright, we may not be likely to challenge the likes of Kruse anytime soon, but we did at least give it a go and show that with a few pointers (albeit from a former Olympian), you can pick up the sport fairly quickly.
In fact, it is perhaps more difficult to learn the various terms that go with the sport, not to mention the different types of weapons.
But, as made famous (or perhaps not so much) by the Mask of Zorro and the Three Musketeers, épée is possibly the most recognisable weapon used in fencing and that was what we were given as we tentatively stepped up to learn the ropes.
Kitted out in all the necessary protection, we looked the part, but could we put into practice the moves and techniques we had learnt from our vastly experienced tutor?
Well, as it happened, yes, we were able to make several 'hits' on each other, with a couple of simultaneous hits helping the scores to rack up.
And Paul said there may be hope for us yet, with each of us showing flashes of what it takes to become a fencer.
So just what are the necessary skills that make up a successful fencer?
According to Steve, it is all about "technique, strength, stamina, power and your reaction speeds".
It may sound obvious, but a long reach can go a long way too, with the taller fencers the more likely to land a hit when on the attack against a shorter opponent.
Maybe that is why a certain Mr Rose perhaps felt that he had the "upper hand" over myself and our sports editor Glenn Garrett.
But a few hits later, he was certainly hushed, with one monster bruise to show for a well-timed hit during his defeat to me. As it happened, we won one bout against each other in the round-robin format, so there was no gloating or embarrassment to be had on the Chronicle sportsdesk.
We did learn though that it is possible to pick up the basics of the sport and enjoy it in much the same way Napoleon once did back in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century.