Saturday, July 28, 2012

Day 1 at the Olympics:

Fencing on Day 1 of the 2012 Olympics was Women's Foil, and what a day of Women's Foil it was. The big news, of course was:

(1) the domination of the weapon by the Italian team - Gold, Silver, and Bronze. South Korea's Nam and the United States's Keifer won 4th and 5th, respectively.

(2) the defeat of three times Olympic Gold Medalist Valentina Vezzali, the dominant women's foilist of all time. With 3 individual Olympic Golds, 2 team Golds, 1 individual Silver, and 1 team Bronze, 13 first place results in World Championships, and a host of European Championships, World Cups, and Italian national championships starting at age 10, Vezzali had to be satsfied with Bronze. It is an amazing record of achievement in a single weapon. I suspect she was tired from the previous night's overblown and ridiculous opening ceremony. Significantly, swimmers with events the next day routinely do not march in the opening ceremony because of the hours of standing it consumes. Perhaps this would be a wise policy for all athletes - although in Vezzali's case it would have been difficult to turn down the honor of bearing the Italian flag in the parade of athletes, both personally, and more importantly for the sport.

And on the day before at the opening ceremony, something important happened for our sport. As I have mentioned Vezzali was the Italian flag bearer. The United States flag was carried by Mariel Zagunis, the number 1 ranked women's sabre fencer in the world going into the games. And Laura Flessel-Colovic, an epee fencer, carried the flag of France. Although I do not have a list to prove this, I would bet that this is the first time the athletes of three major sporting nations have selected female fencers as their flag bearers. And it is almost a certainty that this is the first time three women were selected who represented all three weapons (foil for Vezzali, epee for Flessel-Colovic, and sabre for Zagunis). It is a very good thing.

Now, on to the results. After the Beijing Olympics I did a detailed technical analysis of the bouts. I am in the process of gathering data to do the same analysis for these Games. However, a couple of things immediately stood out as I watched the bouts.

(1) in the quarterfinal (round of 8), semifinal (round of 4), and final 8 bouts, 4 (50%) were tied at the end of time and were decided in the overtime minute.

(2) in the same rounds 4 bouts did not end up with a 15 touch score - this seems obvious. After all the same 4 bouts tied at the end of the standard 3 periods. However, none of these ties were 14-14, rather they were 7-7, 10-10, 11-11, and 12-12.

(3) there were a lot of runs (a series of unanswered touches scored by one fencer). Counting 3 or more unanswered touches as a run, my initial count is 37 runs in the 8 bouts. Looking at the rounds of 16, 32, and 64 will undoubtedly produce a lot more.

My initial assessment is that the bouts were slower in terms of touch production, the ability to run or to control runs is critical to victory, and the ability to win in the overtime 1 minute is also critical. These last two factors are special tactical considerations that must be incorporated in fencer training.

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