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Mission Olympics: ASI’s fencing cadets’ major medal thrust

Getting used to European fencing terms may not merely be lingua franca for the piste. For these cadets it is the heart and soul of their Olympic preparations.

pune Updated: Aug 27, 2018 17:44 IST
Prachi Bari
Prachi Bari
Hindustan Times, Pune
pune,maharashtra,fencing
Cadets undergo training in fencing at the Armed Sports Institute (ASI). (Shankar Narayan/HT PHOTO)

The fencing premises at the Army Sports Institute (ASI), referred to on campus as the fencing hall, is packed with boy cadets in action the day HT visits. The cadets, all between the ages 11 to 18, are practising different moves and stances.

Across three practice pistes, or strips, duels are on.

GET, SET, ALLEZ: ART OF FENCING EXPLAINED
Despite the similarity, there are three events in fencing; epee, which hails from Spain; sabre which is from Hungary, and the foil that comes from France
THE OBJECTIVE OF THE GAME
To score ‘touches’ on your opponent. Touches are scored only when they land on the target, which is different for all three types events; sabre, foil and epee.
1. The first to score 5 touches wins the bout. Off-target touches stop the bout, but are not scored.
2. Due to the speed of fencing, touches are registered electronically. A valid touch is scored when coloured light comes on the side of the fencer who made the touch.
3. When a touch is registered off-target, a white light is shown on the side of the fencer who scored that touch.
4. Scoring touches in fencing is more than just a matter of physical speed, it’s a matter of tactics.
5. Tactics are based on the fact that every attack can be parried (defended), but every parry (defensive action) can be deceived.
Army Sports Institute holds an induction twice a year where coaches travel across India spotting talent. Currently, the institute has 28 cadets undergoing training in fencing. (SHANKAR NARAYAN/HT)
THREE EVENTS
Fencing has three events sabre, foil and epee.SABRE: In sabre a thrusting and cutting weapon, with a triangular blade, is used. The valid target area (where touches are counted for scoring) is from the waist up, including arms and head.
FOIL: Foil is a thrusting weapon. In this type of fencing, only the torso is considered as a valid target area.
EPEE: Epee also involves a thrusting weapon. In this type of fencing, the entire body is considered a valid target area.
Fencing uses slightly modified rules for each weapon besides valid target area. Some major differences:
Right of Way (decision criterion used to determine which fencer receives the point if both fencers land a valid touch at the same time) is used in foil and sabre, but not epee.
Crossing legs (as in walking/running) is prohibited in sabre and allowed in both foil and epee.
Corps à corps (body contact) is against the rules, but punished differently in the different disciplines. It is almost completely ignored in epee.
OLYMPIC SPORT
Fencing is an Olympic sport and has been a part of the sports festival since the inaugural 1896 Olympics.
Traditionally a monopoly of European nations, Fencing in India officially began in 1974. It was then initiated in the army in 1999 and introduced at the Army sports institute, Pune, in 2008.
EQUIPMENT IN USE
Blade Mask Body wire Connecting cable Electric jacket Gloves Field of play
Coach Deepak Singh Patial explains about the equipment and rules involved in fencing. (SHANKAR NARAYAN/HT)
In modern fencing, the piste or strip is the playing area, which is roughly 14 metres long and twometres wide; the last two metres on each end are hash-marked, so as to warn a fencer before s/he backs off the end of the strip.
Retreating off the end of the strip with both feet gets a touch against.
Going off the side of the strip with one foot halts the fencing action
Going off the side with both feet gets a penalty for the loss of one metre, and if this results in the offender going off the end of the piste, a point is awarded to his opponent.
After each touch, fencers begin again at the centre of the strip, four metres apart, or roughly at a position where their blades can nearly touch when fully extended.
Information courtesy: Fencing department, Army sports institute

To the uninitiated, all look the same, but as coach Deepak Singh Patial points out, “There are three events in fencing; epee (hails from Spain), sabre (Hungary) and the foil (France). At the ASI, we have at present 28 boys. We hold an induction rally twice in a year where coaches travel across India talent spotting. We look for psychological and physiological aspects like leg and hand coordination. Arm span and good strength in the lower limbs is perfect for fencing.”

Dev Narwal (16), is one who was spotted by an ASI talent scout. “He hails from a small village in Haryana and has been fencing very well,” says Patial, the proud coach.

Narwal is now part of the Boys Sports Company, where the Sports authority of India (SAI) foots the nutrition bill, and ASI takes care of education, training and accommodation

Patial points to a group of boys mimicking moves staring at their reflection in mirrors. “They are new recruits and practising footwork, which is very importance,” says Patial.

On the practice piste, one of the recruit is now busy aiming at spots on a mounted sheet of paper, while others are back to working on their stance with a coach.

Besides ASI, there are fencing training camps in Nashik and Aurangabad as well in Maharashtra.

”This program began after the win by Colonel Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, a silver medal in the 2004 Olympic Games. Fencing was selected to be part of ‘mission Olympics’, because of the huge number of medals at stake in the Olympics and the Asian Games,” says Major Ruchi Trikha, the officer in charge of fencing at the ASI.

This sport is still not easily understood by the masses, but it is the Army that has a very big role in raising awareness about fencing. “Fencing is very technical skill sport, with tactics and techniques. We have various training methodologies using Russian, Hungarian and French techniques, and we have had foreign coaches training the boys here too,” says Major Trikha.

ASI’s young fencers pierce a new Olympic medal goal

The Army sports institute here in Pune is building a platoon of fencers who are piercing a new range of sports excellence for the country.

The results are beginning to show. At a junior Commonwealth fencing meet in Newcastle, UK, between July 23 and 30, 2018, cadet RS Sherjin, a 16-year-old from the Boys Sports Company, Army Sports Institute (ASI), claimed gold in the Epee cadet category.

India won 16 medals at this cadet fencing championships - four gold, four silver and eight bronze.

“Fencing is a sport which hails from Europe and is now popular in Maharashtra,” says Major Ruchi Trikha, the officer in charge of fencing at the ASI.

Major Trikha has been fencing and competing at the international level since 2006. As India stays on cue for it’s maximum medal haul at the ongoing Asian Games in Indonesia, it is worth noting that the sport has 36 medals up for grabs at the Olympics.

“We had a team of 50 fencers in the UK. In the team event we won one bronze and we won a silver in the sabre category,” Major Trikha says.

Maharashtra’s Girish Jakate, an 18-year-old studying at the ASI also won a gold, while Avinash Bharade won a bronze.

“Indian cadet fencers have already started making their presence felt in the international arena. It is the relentless effort of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the Fencing Association of India that are promoting the sport.The ASI, Pune, under the Army’s ‘mission Olympics’ programme is creating a conveyer belt in terms of infusing and nurturing fresh talent in this highly skilled game,” MajorTrikha adds.

First Published: Aug 27, 2018 16:52 IST