U.S. fencers soak in Paralympic Games atmosphere
Catherine Bouwkamp is one of three U.S. fencers eliminated from the London 2012 Paralympic Games competition on Tuesday.
LONDON – The U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Fencing Team began competition Tuesday morning in the men’s and women’s individual foil event at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Although all three fencers competing for Team USA today were eliminated, they were still able to soak in the atmosphere and enjoy their time competing on the world’s stage.
The three fencers in action for the Americans were four-time Paralympians Mario Rodriguez (Port Hueneme, Calif.) and Gerard Moreno (Los Angeles, Calif.) as well as Paralympic rookie, 16 year old Catherine Bouwkamp (Fishers, Ind.), the only female on the squad.
For Rodriguez, the opportunity to once again compete in another Paralympic Games was special enough in its own right.
“I consider myself very fortunate…it’s great to be a part of something bigger than myself,” said Rodriguez.
Enhancing the experience of competing in the Games is the venue in which the fencing competition is being held.
Games organizers have received widespread praise from athletes, coaches and spectators throughout the Games for the emphasis that has been placed on making each event setting unique and special for spectators and athletes alike.
The fencing venue is no exception.
Fencing is being housed in ExCel , a $800 million, 1,000,000 square foot exhibition and convention center that has been split into five separate arenas for the Games.
In addition to wheelchair fencing; judo, boccia, powerlifting, sitting volleyball and table tennis are all being housed in ExCel.
Because ExCel is home to so many events the venue has seen large crowds, an intense atmosphere and for the athletes, a Games experience they will remember for years to come.
“It’s been a great experience and I really enjoyed it,” said Moreno.
Despite being the first day of the fencing competition, the intensity within the arena today was already at a high level. With 103 fencers vying for just 12 medals over the next four days, the scene is sure to remain tense.
The seating areas inside the wheelchair fencing arena are dark while the competition stage is brightly lit with several spotlights. With a minimum of four matches happening at the same time, spectators are challenged to focus on as many matches as possible without missing a second of the action. It is scenario that challenges not only spectators, but participants as well as sometimes crowd noise from another match may get an athlete flustered, for Rodriguez however, the crowd noise was something he enjoyed throughout the day.
“It was great to feel the support today. To look out into the crowd and see so many supporters was a good feeling,” said Rodriguez.
For these fencers the experience has been one of a kind and for a sport that typically does not receive much publicity, London organizers have certainly done their part to bring wheelchair fencing to the forefront.
“This venue is great and the Games over all have been well organized,” Moreno said. “Everything is very well run and everybody involved has been very nice.”
The fencing arena within ExCel will continue to stay busy throughout the duration of the Games. Competition continues this evening and will run through Sept. 8.
Still set to compete for the U.S. is Ryan Estep (Florence, Miss.), the top ranked wheelchair fencer in the United States and the third ranked wheelchair fencer in the world. The 25-year old Estep will compete in the individual category B epee competition Wednesday and represents the Americans best chance to medal in the 2012 Games.