After a 24-year drought of Olympic fencing gold, China fencing team is gearing up for the saucy feast at the upcoming Beijing Games by fielding in hopefuls such as women epeeist Li Na and sabreur Tan Xue.
In a sport dominated by European athletes, especially the French and Italians, fencers from emerging powers of China, South Korea, Switzerland and Japan find it difficult to challenge their traditional rivals of France, Italy, Germany, Russia and the United States.
The last Olympic fencing gold China reaped was at the 1984 Los Angeles Games by women foilist Luan Jujie, while French and Italian players have respectively collected 111 and 106 medals in fencing -- one of only four sports that have been featured at every modern Olympic Games.
For the Beijing Games, the French team is strong in both men's and women's epee, posing great difficulties for China's Li Na in her strive for an Olympic title. And Germany's Britta Heidemann also showed glimpse of a dark horse after recent matches.
Heidemann triumphed in May at the 2008 Women's Epee World Cup and consequently overtook Li Na to become number one in world ranking.
For Tan Xue, silver medalist at both the Athens Olympics and the 2008 Women's Sabre World Cup, the aspiration for a title this August would mean tough encounters with skillful Italian competitors. Italy's Mazocca Gioia, who currently ranks first in the world, will inevitably be a tough rival.
Other teams like Russia and the United States are also sending strong players to the Olympic fencing tournament running from Aug. 9-17 at China's Fencing Hall which is adjacent to the main Olympic stadium "Bird Nest."
The Russians, winning one gold medal in fencing in Athens, have the potential to reap medals in most of the 10 events on offer this August.
Traditionally, fencing offers 12 golds in both men's and women's individual and team events with three kinds of swords.
However, the Beijing Games circles out two team events of women's epee and men's foil due to limits on the total number of athletes for the world's biggest gala.
The United States also boasts of skillful fencers, especially in saber. It was American Mariel Zagunis who outplayed Tan Xue in Athens, and the talented fencer was only 19 years old when she achieved the top honor.
A total of 212 fencers will compete for the 10 fencing gold medals at the pending Games. Host China will field 16 players.
Apart from the four who qualified through world ranking -- Li Na, Tan Xue as well as men foilists Zhu Jun and Lei Sheng, the others are yet to be announced, according to team manager Wang Jian.
Although Zhu Jun and Lei Sheng enjoy good rankings in the world, the Chinese team manger said the two are young and relatively inexperienced at such grand events as the Olympics. He expected them to strive for medals in the foil event which is dominated by the Italians.
The Fencing Hall, a temporary venue, can accommodate some 4,000 spectators. During the Games, it will also be the venue for the shooting and fencing competitions of modern pentathlon.
It will also hold the wheelchair fencing and boccia events during the Paralympic Games and be turned to a national convention center afterward.
(Xinhua News Agency July 24, 2008)