Wheelchair fencing was included in the inaugural Paralympic programme. The sport was first demonstrated at the Stoke Mandeville Games in England in 1954 – a competition which was created to help in the rehabilitation of servicemen and women who had been injured in World War II, and which was the precursor to the first official Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960.
There are three disciplines in wheelchair fencing based on the type of sword used – the foil, the epée and the sabre. In the foil event, fencers may only strike their opponent in the trunk area, whereas in the sabre and epee, they may strike anywhere above the waist.
To be allowed to compete in wheelchair fencing, athletes must have an impairment of their legs or feet which prevents them from competing against standing, able-bodied fencers.
There are two sport classes in wheelchair fencing – Category A and Category B. Athletes are classified according to their level of trunk control and the functioning of the arm which will wield the weapon.
A key difference between wheelchair fencing and conventional fencing is that wheelchair fencers are fixed to the spot via fixing devices which anchor their chairs to the ground. However, upper body movement is unrestricted, allowing for thrilling duals between competitors.
Athletes wear masks, jackets and gloves, as in the conventional version of the sport (unless the fencer has significant loss of grip or control in the sword hand, in which case the glove can be omitted and the sword may be bound to the hand with a bandage or similar). The legs (which are out of bounds for striking in all three disciplines) must always be well protected, either with thick clothing or special protective metallic aprons.
Using electronic sensors, the fencers are connected to a counting system which indicates whether a touch is valid. Based on this, the referee decides whether or not it earns a point, and for which athlete in the case of a double touch.
A fight between two competitors is known as a “bout”, an “attack” is any manoeuvre where a fencer moves to score a point, and a “parry” is a defensive action designed to block the opponent’s blade.