It’s International Women’s Day so we thought we’d highlight a few of the remarkable women in fencing to celebrate their accomplishments. Women have increased their participation in the Olympics from less than 2% of the athletes at the 1908 games to just over 44% of the athletes in the 2012 Games. The number of sports available to women at the local up to Olympic levels has greatly influenced that.
Fencing is no stranger to a history of gender inequality. Women first fenced at the Olympics in 1924 in foil. It was not until 1996 that women’s epee was included as an Olympic sport.
Finally, in 2004, the FIE entered women’s sabre as an Olympic event, but had to cut two team events to do so. The number of fencing medals remains at 10, with all 6 individual disciplines and a rotation of 4 of the 6 team events contested at each summer Olympics.
Jujie Luan – Winning Olympic DE Bouts at 50
Jujie Luan has led an interesting and successful career. She started her fencing career at age 17, as an already established track and badminton athlete. She quickly
rose prominence, capturing the Gold medal for foil in the 1984 Olympics – the first Chinese athlete to win gold in fencing. While Olympic gold is, perhaps, her most famous accomplishment, she also took second in the 1978 World Junior Championships (First finalist from Asia,) gold at the 1983 International Women’s Fencing Tournament (First East Asian fencer to win an international event) and gold at the 1984 World Championships. She also fenced in the 1988 Olympics. Luan relocated to Edmonton, Alberta and became a Canadian citizen in 1994. Representing Canada, she qualified for the Sydney Olympics in 2000 – at the age of 42. She qualified again in 2008, at the age of 50, and won her first match against a higher ranked fencer. To this day, she is one of China’s most famous athletes – being named one China’s top 35 sports stars, and having had a movie made about her life.
Helene Mayer won her first national gold medal (German National Championships – foil) in 1924, at the age of 13. In 1930, she won her 6th. In 1928, at the age of 17, she won Olympic gold in Amsterdam. After finishing 5th in the Los Angeles 1932 games, she remained in the US to attend college. Despite controversy stemming from Mayer’s Jewish heritage, she attended the 1936 Berlin games and won silver. She returned to the US, where she won 8 national championships between 1934 and 1946.
Valentina Vezzali – Consummate Champion
Valentina Vezzali – what more needs be said? She has won more world cup wins than any other fencer – 13 gold (6 individual, 7 team) 4 silver (2 individual and 2 team) and 3 bronze (individual.) She has won six Olympic gold medals, and is one of only four athletes in the history of the summer games to have won 5 medals in the same individual event. She returned to the fencing scene less than a year after having her first child and won the World Championships. Recently, she has been elected to the Italian Parliament.
Vezzali is, quite possibly, the most successful fencing athlete of the modern era.
Laura Flessel-Colovic – The Wasp
Laura Flessel-Colovic is one of France’s most famous athletes. Fencing epee, she is a 5 time Olympic medalist (holding the all-time record for French women) she has two golds, 1 silver, and 2 bronze medals. She has a combined total of 12 World Championship medals (5 gold, 3 silver, 4 bronze, and an additional 2 golds and 1 silver from World Cups. In 2002, she was banned for 3 months following a positive doping test result for a drug she insists was given to her by the team doctors and is an over-the-counter drug in France. She came back from banning to finish a successful season and win the silver in Athens in 2004.
These are just a few of the international women who have shaped the sport of fencing. We’ll continue with some of the US entries on our list.
What do you think? Who else would you put on the list?