Legend Vezzali bows out as Rio fencing venue takes centre stage
The venue for the fencing competitions at Rio 2016, Carioca Arena 3 provided the setting for the sport’s test event, held on April 23-27 and comprising the Rio Fencing Grand Prix and the Team World Championships for Women’s Foil and Men’s Sabre, the two team events that have been rotated off the Olympic programme this year.
An individual epee tournament, the two-day grand prix kicked proceedings off, with the 128 fencers in the men’s and women’s competitions getting a first glimpse of the arena’s innovative X-shaped platform, which enhances the spectator experience by allowing up to four contests to take place at the same time.
Russia’s Tatiana Logunova scored a surprise win in the women’s competition, shading world No1 Xu Anqi of China 5-3 to claim her first title of the season, with fellow Russian Olga Kochneva completing the top three.
Graced by every member of the world’s top 10, the men’s event was won by Ukraine’s Bogdan Nikishin, the world No5, who held his nerve to overcome Switzerland's Benjamin Steffen 15-13. Third place went to another Ukrainian, Anatoliy Herey.
Reacting to his triumph, the 35-year-old Nikishin said: “This was a rehearsal for the Olympic Games, so I have every reason to hope that I’ll perform just as well there.”
The women’s team foil took centre stage two days later, with Russia seeing off Italy in the gold-medal match to avenge last year’s final defeat to the same Italian quartet.
In front from the early stages, the Russians were inspired by world No2 Inna Deriglazova, who held off a late charge by the top-ranked Arianna Errigo to seal a hard-fought 45-39 win, denying Italian fencing icon Valentina Vezzali a 17th world title on her farewell appearance in the sport.
“Fencing has been my life,” said six-time Olympic champion Vezzali as she reflected on the final act of her storied career. “My foil has been with me since I was a little more than six years old, and together we’ve shared emotions, disappointments, medals, misfortunes and tears of both joy and anger.”
“Today, I don’t see a sunset, but rather a sunrise of new matches to be faced and won,” she added.
France took the bronze courtesy of an emphatic 45-18 defeat of Republic of Korea.
In the men’s team sabre, which brought the test event to a close, favourites Russia defeated Hungary 45-38 in the gold-medal match. The Russians led virtually all the way, with reigning individual men’s sabre world champion Alexey Yakimenko scoring the winning point against London 2012 individual gold medallist and world No3 Aron Szilagyi.
In the battle for the bronze, Romania scored a 45-35 victory over tournament revelations Iran, who achieved their best ever world championship performance.
The test event was preceded by the “Rio Loves Fencing!” demonstration, held at Fort Copacabana. Showcasing all three weapons, the two-day festival saw leading Brazilian fencers, among them women’s epee world No12 Nathalie Moellhausen, exhibit their skills on a show piste, and also gave members of the public an opportunity to try their hand at the sport.
Meanwhile, the FIE-sponsored Fencing School programme is drawing to a close. Running for the last two months, the initiative has proved a success, visiting nearly 40 schools and communities across a number of Rio neighbourhoods and allowing thousands of enthusiastic youngsters to get to grips with fencing.