Mariel Zagunis (right) in action at the 2012 London Olympics. Photo C.Harkins
Mariel Zagunis (right) in action at the 2012 London Olympics. Photo C.Harkins

Team USA has lived on the women’s sabre podium since the event started being contested at the FIE level. This season bodes strong performances from a number of familiar American faces, as well as a crop of talented younger fencers looking to make a splash at the senior level.

Fencing returns to London this weekend as the women’s sabre World Cup season kicks off with the Beazley Trophy.  This event will see 136 competitors,  representing 26 different nations competing for the inaugural medals of this Olympic cycle.

Last year’s champion, Vassiliki Vougiouka (GRE), returns to defend her title, but will be facing some stiff competition.  Also competing is 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Olga Kharlan (UKR), who earned that same bronze finish at this event last year.  Chen Xiaodong (CHN) will be looking to build on a strong Olympic season that saw her reach 10th in the world.  The ever-present Italian threat – particularly Irene Vecchi and Gioia Marzocca (7th- and 12th-ranked, respectively) – promises more than a few fiercely contested matches  They and their teammates aim to expand Italian dominance to the one weapon where, despite a collection of impressive results elsewhere, they have yet to reach the Olympic podium.

In the meantime, two-time Olympic champion Mariel Zagunis (USA) will be looking to fight back after her loss in the London games.  She hopes to retain her own title as the world’s top-ranked women’s sabre fencer. Olympic teammate Dagmara Wozniak, currently ranked 6th in FIE rankings, was on fire this time last year.  Her performances included knocking out Zagunis in the round of 16 to earn a spot in the top-8, where she lost 15-11 in a hard-fought match against 2012 African Champion Azza Besbes (TUN). Ibtihaj Muhammad, at 18th in the world and 3rd in the US, likewise could be poised to make waves this season as she prepares for an Olympic cycle that will almost certainly see her to Rio in 2016. Daria Schneider (37th in the world, 4th in the US) rounds out the senior national team that captured bronze at the 2011 World Championships in Catania – a team likely to do at least as well during the team competition this weekend.

Team USA has a young crew ready to step up in the senior circuit.
Team USA has a young crew ready to step up in the senior circuit.

New Faces

Along with the team’s established senior talent, this weekend will see some of the nation’s top juniors representing the US. Skyla Powers, Sage Palmedo, Adrienne Jarocki, Francesca Russo, and Lena Johnson are at the top of the domestic junior rankings.  These young athletes are now looking to gain a foothold in the senior international standings. Joining them are collegiate fencers Faizah Muhammad (NJIT), Eliza Stone (Princeton), and Kamali Thompson (Temple) – top-ranked senior fencers themselves – rounding out the weekend’s American contingent at 11 competitors.

Who is missing?

There are some notable absences from the Beazley Trophy’s entry list.  Though not all these absences are cause for alarm, Leonore Perrus (FRA), ranked 16th internationally and only 28 years old, has retired from competition as of the Fédération Française D’ Escrime’s announcement over the summer. Other notable fencers who will not be competing this weekend – but have not retired – include 2011 World Champion and 2012 Olympic silver medalist Sofia Velikaia (RUS), 2012 Olympic champion Kim Ji-yeon (KOR), 8th-ranked Zhu Min (CHN), and 9th-ranked Azza Besbes (TUN).

With the beginning of a new Olympic cycle upon us, ambition is strong and hopes are high. The historic 2012 London Games saw unprecedented highs (and lows) for many nations. USA Fencing may have walked away with their lowest recent medal count during these Games, but an objective look at the performances of the American fencers over the last several years yields much to be proud of and much to look forward to.

At the beginning of the cycle, we’re only getting a glimpse of what the next four years will hold, and as the field of women’s sabre competitors continues to grow and become more and more diverse, it can truly become anyone’s game.

The Beazley Trophy World Cup will be streaming live online via the FIE’s YouTube stream, courtesy of British Fencing.

Entries and tableaux can be found posted here:
The next Women’s Sabre World Cup event will be the Challenge Yves Brasseur in Gand, Belgium, February 22-23, 2013.