skip navigation

Olympic Fencing Participation

Fencing was one of nine original nine sports of the modern Olympics and one of five sports to be contested at every summer Olympic Games since 1896.

The ancestor of modern fencing originated in Spain, where several books on fencing were written. Treatise on Arms, was written by Diego de Valera between 1458 and 1471, shortly before dueling came under official ban by the Catholic Monarchs. When Spain became the leading power of Europe, the Spanish armies carried fencing abroad and particularly into the south of Italy, one of the main battlefields between both nations.

Modern fencing originated in the 18th century, in the Italian school of fencing of the Renaissance, and, under their influence, was improved by the French school of fencing. The Spanish school of fencing stagnated and was replaced by the Italian and French schools. Nowadays, these two schools are reported to be the most influential around the world.

Dueling went into sharp decline after World War I. After World War II, dueling went out of use in Europe except for very rare exceptions. Training for duels, once fashionable for males of aristocratic backgrounds, all but disappeared, along with the classes themselves. Fencing continued as a sport, with tournaments and championships. However, the need to actually prepare for a duel with “sharps” vanished, changing both training and technique.

Starting with épée in 1936, side-judges were replaced by an electrical scoring apparatus, with an audible tone and a red or green light indicating when a touch landed. Foil first embraced electronic scoring in 1956, sabre in 1988. The scoring box reduced the bias in judging, and permitted more accurate scoring of faster actions, lighter touches, and more touches to the back and flank than before.

Women's foil fencing was introduced to the Olympic program in 1924 at the Paris Games. Women's epee was included beginning in 1996 with women's saber being added in 2004.