Dave Berry on fencing

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To the Point, this Fencing is the Stuff of Soaps

If you want to see a sport that combines the element of fast-paced action with the element of people screaming in French, you should check out Olympic fencing.

Actually, there are three Olympic fencing events: the “ipie,” the “sabre” and “the third type of Olympic fencing event.” The object in all three is to touch your opponent with your weapon; the winner is the first fencer who, within the allotted time, swings across the room on the chandelier.

No, seriously, they score by touching the opponent in the Valid Target Area. The touches are monitored electronically via wires coming out of the fencers’ backs, similar to the technology used to control Dan Rather. The fencers also wear face masks, so that they’ll have something to whip off in a dramatic fashion when they want to complain to the referee.

They complained on almost every point in the bout I watched, between a Russian and a Frenchman. Here’s how it went: The referee would give the traditional command of “En garde!” (literally, “Start your engines!”) and the two fencers would rush together, and instantaneously, before your brain could register anything, various lights would go off, and the referee would make some incomprehensible hand signal, and both fencers would whirl toward the ref, yank off their masks and scream a noise that sounded like “AUUUGGGHHHHH!!!!” (literally, “Wipe the mayonnaise off your eyeballs!!!”). At the same time, in the audience, clots of French persons would scream and hurl garlic. Then one of the fencers, apparently selected at random, would be awarded a point, and the entire process would be repeated.

In between points I read the media guide put out by the U.S. fencing team, which contained these two Amazing Fencing Facts:

1. Neil Diamond attended New York University on a fencing scholarship.

2. The sport of fencing – this is a direct quote from the media guide – has been “included in dialogue” in the TV soap opera “As The World Turns.” The media guide doesn’t say what, specifically, the dialogue was. Probably it was something like:

LANCE: Oh Tiffany! I want … I so much want to …

TIFFANY: What, Lance? Tell me! Say it!

LANCE: I want to touch your Valid Target Area!

TIFFANY: I knew that, Lance, the moment I saw your epee.

by Dave Barry, Atlanta, 1996

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