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One of the original sports in the Paralympic Games, wheelchair fencing involves both physical and mental skill. As a combative sport, wheelchair fencing athletes use swords to attempt to score points through series of hits on their opponent.
History of Wheelchair Fencing
Wheelchair fencing was introduced as one of the original Paralympic sports at the 1960 Paralympic Games in Rome. The sport first made an international debut in 1953 when Sir Ludwig Guttman introduced wheelchair fencing to the 1953 Stoke International Games.
In 1988, a new classification was used to allow athletes with varying disabilities greater opportunities to compete against one another. Today, there are only two classifications within the wheelchair fencing sport, and athletes are placed into divisions based on the amount of trunk movement and hand control they possess. Athletes with cerebral palsy, spinal injuries, amputations and other disabilities compete in the sport.
Rules of Wheelchair Fencing
In able-bodied fencing, athletes have 14 meters on which to move around. In the Paralympic version of sport, the athlete’s wheelchairs are fixed in a metal frame so the chairs do not move. The distance between the wheelchairs is determined by the athlete with the shorter arm.
In Paralympic competition, each bout in the first round is won by the athlete with the best of nine hits, according to the London Paralympic Games website. In the elimination rounds, the bouts are won by the athlete with the best of 15 hits.
Disciplines of Wheelchair Fencing
There are three disciplines of wheelchair fencing — epee, foil and sabre. Both men and women compete in the epee and foil disciplines, while sabre is a men-only discipline. Team events also are contested.
The three disciplines each use a different kind of sword. The epee sword is the heaviest of the three and is triangular, while the foil and sabre swords are square.
In epee wheelchair fencing, the target is anywhere above the waist of the opposing player. In foil and sabre wheelchair fencing, the target is the torso of the opposing player. In Paralympic competition, each sword, regardless of discipline, has a rounded end. The swords are usually electronic, allowing points to be counted electronically.