Member of Team USA Competes in Paralympic Wheelchair fencingMember of Team USA Competes in Paralympic Wheelchair fencing

Wheelchair fencing

Wheelchair fencing has been a part of the Paralympics since the original 1960 Rome Games. In fact, it was developed by Sir Ludwig Guttmann, the founder of the Paralympic Games. Those first Games offered just three medal events, and only one country competed: Italy. The sport’s growing popularity likely has to do with its fast-paced, dynamic and medieval quality.

The goal of wheelchair fencing is not unlike that of able-bodied fencing: to hit the opponent in the designated region during a match. Unlike able-bodied fencing, each Paralympic fencer athlete competes in a wheelchair, which is held in a stationary position during the match. The number of touches (hits with the blade) required and the target areas vary in each event. Athletes rely on ducking, half-turns and leaning to dodge their competitors’ touches as fencers can never raise up from the seat of their wheelchair.

 

TIMELINE:

1955
Wheelchair fencing debuts at the International Stoke Mandeville Games

1996
Team USA participates in Paralympic wheelchair fencing for the first time

2004
Team USA wins its first and only Paralympic medal in the sport—a bronze medal

EVENTS

Currently, 12 medal events are offered across three disciplines of Paralympic wheelchair fencing: épée, foil and sabre. Men compete in individual épée, foil and sabre events, with team events in épée and foil. Women compete in individual and team épée and foil events, with no current sabre events.

Wheelchair fencing consists of two rounds: pool rounds and elimination rounds. In the pool round, fencers compete in a single three-minute period; the winner is the first fencer to reach five touches or whoever has more touches at the end of the time period. The elimination round consists of three separate three-minute rounds and fencers aim for 15 touches. Team matches play to 45 points. Like pool and elimination rounds, if no one reaches 45, the team with the most touches wins.

Touches are determined electronically, but referees make the final decision of whether or not a touch counts.

EQUIPMENT

Each event has its own unique sword. The foil is the lightest and most flexible, weighing less than one pound. The épée is heavier and more rigid and features a larger hand guard to protect the fencer from the stiff blade. The sabre is similar to a cavalry sword: short, flexible and ideal for faster movements. Unlike the other two, the sabre is shaped like a blade and has a flat edge.

Uniforms for wheelchair fencing differ based on event, but all fencers must wear gloves, protective masks and puncture-resistant jackets. Foil matches feature protective shields that cover the wheelchair, and metal aprons are used during épée bouts to make sure touches aren’t registered in off-target areas.

All Paralympic wheelchair fencing events take place on a piste: a 4 meter (13 foot)–long, 1.5 meter (5 foot)–wide platform on which wheelchairs are fastened.

FAST FACTS

Vocabulary lesson: The attack is a move or series of movements a fencer uses to try to score against their opponent while a parry is a defensive block. Bout is the term used to describe a competition between two opponents.

Whose game? Athletes with impairments including lower body amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body., spinal cord injuries and cerebral palsyDefinition: Damage to the central nervous system. can compete in Paralympic wheelchair fencing. Men and women compete in separate events.

Change is good: In the early years of the sport, fencers used heavy brown wheelchairs known as travaux chairs. As the type of wheelchair became lighter over time, stabilizing became necessary. The first solutions to this problem were manual—an individual crouched behind the fencers’ chairs, hanging on to the wheels. Now wheelchairs are fastened to rails on the piste.

Athlete Spotlight:

Joseph Brinson

When Joseph Brinson was 17, a car accident left him paraplegicDefinition: A person with a permanent condition in which he or she may be unable to move or feel both legs and/or the lower half of the body, usually due to disease or injury of the spinal cord.. Having been a multisport high school athlete, Brinson naturally sought out a new athletic outlet. He initially took up sled hockey but was later recruited to compete in wheelchair fencing in 2006. Within five years he had qualified for his first World Championship Team.

Brinson took bronze medals in both épée and saber in the 2011 U.S. Fencing National Wheelchair Championship, and at the 2012 event he won gold in saber and silver in épée. He competed at his first Paralympic Games in London in 2012.

Brinson describes himself as being fast and strong—but not too strong. Wheelchair fencing requires explosive strength, but excess bulk can slow a player down. In addition, Brinson has a good reach and solid work ethic.

Althete Spotlight Joseph Brinson

CLASSIFICATION

Paralympic wheelchair fencing competition is open to male and female athletes with physical impairments.

Note: The models presented below are examples. A classification evaluation must be performed to determine an athlete’s sport class(es).

Physical Impairment

Visual Impairment

Intellectual Impairment

All Paralympic wheelchair fencers have an impairment of the legs or feet that prohibits them from competing against standing, able-bodied fencers. Because the wheelchair may not move during competition to approach the opponent or avoid an attack, each athlete is assigned a sport class depending on his or her trunk function. That trunk function determines how functional an athlete’s upper body can be while moving around in the chair.

A

B

C

A

Category A wheelchair fencers have good control that allows them to bend forward and sideways. They can attack and dodge explosively. Their fencing arm is fully functional. Category A fencers may not use a wheelchair in daily life, but all have an impairment of the lower limbs such as paraplegiaDefinition: A permanent condition in which you may be unable to move or feel both legs and/or the lower half of the body, usually due to disease or injury of the spinal cord. or amputationDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body..

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

B

Wheelchair fencers in category B have an impairment that affects not only their legs but also their trunk or their fencing arm, such as incomplete tetraplegia. These athletes are not as explosive in their movements as fencers in Category A, and they may support their trunk movements with their non-fencing arm to attack the opponent.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

C

Fencers in category C have no sitting balance and an impairment that impacts their fencing arm. The weapon is typically taped to the hand due to the severity of the athlete's impairment.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair