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Paris Olympics Preview: Tournament Format and Seeding

07/10/2024, 9:30am CDT
By Bryan Wendell

While the fencing rules don’t change, the tournament size and format of an Olympic fencing tournament differ from FIE World Cup or Grand Prix events in some key ways.

The Grand Palais in 2010. Photo by Serge Timacheff

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — As the Olympic Games Paris 2024 near, fencing fans new and old will want to familiarize themselves with the format of an Olympic fencing tournament.

While the fencing rules are the same — when the referee says Allez!, it’s on — the tournament size and format have some differences from a typical FIE (International Fencing Federation) World Cup or Grand Prix.

How the Field Was Formed

A World Cup might have 200 fencers or more per weapon, but the Olympic fencing competition features far fewer athletes. The field is structured to ensure global representation and the highest level of competition. 

For the individual events, each weapon will feature between 34 and 37 athletes based on the following:

  • Team Qualifiers: The first 24 spots are allocated to the three members of each of the eight qualified teams in the team event. This is how Team USA qualified all 15 athletes who will be competing in the individual events (three each in Women’s Epee, Men’s Saber, Women’s Foil, Women’s Saber and Men’s Foil).

  • World Rankings: Six additional fencers (from countries that didn’t qualify a full team) are selected based on their FIE (International Fencing Federation) world rankings. These selections are distributed across continents: two from Europe, one from the Americas, two from Asia/Oceania, and one from Africa.

  • Continental Qualifiers: Four spots (from countries not represented in either of the two previous groups) are earned through winner-takes-all continental qualifying events, with one fencer each from Europe, the Americas, Asia/Oceania, and Africa.

  • Host Nation: As the host nation, France receives six quota places, to be distributed among team and individual events, respecting the 18-member maximum for any one nation and the 37-fencer limit for each individual event.

Tournament Format

A World Cup begins with pool rounds and initial direct-elimination bouts on Day 1 and then continues with the “main tableau” of 64 fencers on Day 2. 

With its smaller field, Olympic fencing competition takes place over a single day.

  • Single-Elimination: The competition is a single-elimination tournament, meaning there are no preliminary pool rounds. Athletes compete in direct elimination (DE) bouts from the start in what’s called an incomplete tableau.

  • Round of 64: The competition begins with the Round of 64, though most fencers receive byes directly into the Round of 32 due to the field size (34 to 37 fencers).

  • One Day Only: Each weapon’s entire competition is contested in a single day. For example, Women’s Foil begins at 3:30 a.m. ET on July 28 with the Round of 64 and continues through to the medal rounds, which start at 1 p.m. ET. There is a break of approximately two hours between the quarterfinals and semifinals because the morning/afternoon and evening sessions are separately ticketed events. 

  • Bronze Medal Bouts: Unlike other fencing tournaments, there is no automatic tie for bronze. Fencers who lose in the semifinals compete in a separate bout for the bronze medal before the gold medal bout.

Olympic Seeding

So who fences whom? Even though FIE rankings won’t change between now and the Games, we won’t know matchups until a couple of days before the tournament. 

  • Based on FIE Rankings: Fencers are initially seeded according to their FIE (International Fencing Federation) world rankings. This ensures that the highest-ranked fencers do not meet in the early rounds, rewarding success throughout the season.

  • Randomized Pairings: However, the seeding process is not strictly 1 vs. 32, 2 vs. 31, and so on. Two days before the competition, a draw is conducted where pairings (1/2, 3/4, 5/6, etc.) are randomized and could potentially flip, adding an element of unpredictability.

We’ll share the matchups on our social media channels as soon as they’re set.

Tag(s): Updates  Paris 2024