From The Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Fencing has the prized distinction of being an original event at the first modern Olympics in Athens back in 1896, and the sport has been a staple at the Summer Games ever since.
Fencing was a competition for men only until 1924, when women's fencing events were added for the Paris Games.
Individual and team events are contested in one-day, single-elimination tournaments in three separate fencing disciplines: foil, epee and sabre. In Beijing, all of the team events besides men's foil and women's epee will be held.
The object of a fencing bout is to outscore your opponent with your weapon. Matches are usually to 15 points (in elimination play) or five points (preliminary).
The foil is about 35 inches in length and weighs less than one pound. To score a point in foil competition, one must land his/her blade within the torso of the body - from the shoulders to the groin, front and back.
The epee is similar to the foil in length, but the sword is much heavier and has a guard to protect the hand. To score a point in epee competition, one has to touch his/her blade anywhere on the opponent's body.
The sabre is similar to the foil in length and weight. However, one of the differences is it's used as a thrusting weapon along with a cutting one. The scoring area is from the bend of the hips to the top of the head.
France is the all-time leader in Olympic fencing medals with 111, but Italy leads the list with 43 golds and is second with 106 medals overall. Hungary is third with 84 total medals, while the United States is seventh on the list with 20.
Four years ago in Athens, Italy led with seven medals, followed by France with six and Russia with four. China also did well in fencing at the Athens Games, picking up three silver medals.
The U.S. won two medals in 2004, as Mariel Zagunis won gold in the women's sabre and Sada Jacobson took bronze in the same event. Zagunis was the first American fencer to win Olympic gold in 100 years and she was also the first- ever woman fencer from the U.S. to take the gold.
Zagunis and Jacobson will be in Beijing and 18-year-old Becca Ward will make her Olympic debut. Ward won the 2006 world championship in women's sabre, defeating Zagunis en route to the title. Ward has also won six World Cup events, three Grand Prix events and two Pan American Championships in her brief career.
Keeth Smart will make an appearance in the sabre competition at his third straight Olympic Games for the U.S., but will be trying for his first medal. Smart was the first-ever American to be named the top-ranked male sabre fencer internationally when he held that distinction in 2003. Smart's younger sister, Erinn, will compete for the U.S in the foil competition.
A pair of Italian women fencers will try to accomplish impressive feats in Beijing. Giovanna Trillini, a seven-time Olympic medalist, can become the most decorated women fencer of all-time if she manages to add one more medal to heir haul this Summer.
Countrywoman Valentina Vezzali, who won gold in foil at the Athens Games, is aiming for her an individual gold medal at her third straight Olympics. Overall, Vezzali has five Olympic medals (four gold, one silver) and 10 gold medals at the World Fencing championships.
China's Wang Lee won a silver medal in men's epee in Athens and is one of the favorites to take gold in Beijing. Compatriot Xue Tan won silver in the women's sabre in 2004 and was the runner-up at the event at last yera's world championships.
Fencing competition will be held at the Fencing Hall in the National Convention Center from August 9-17.
07/22 15:26:02 ET