Are shorter fencers at a disadvantage? Isn’t my child too short to succeed in fencing?
This question is much more common than some might think and is one that parents of prospective fencers ask all the time. For many aspiring fencers, height is a determining factor for beginning or even continuing their career in the sport. Many people think that it is super important to be very tall with the epee but okay to be short in foil. That’s only a myth!
Being short is not a disadvantage at all in fencing.
There is a whole world of anecdotal evidence from fencing competitions both domestic and international that shows how shorter fencers are able to take on much taller opponents across disciplines.
One of the best and most recent examples of a beautiful display of the art of fencing is Samuel Imrek, the 2022 Cadet World Champion. Sam, in the last December NAC in the Division 1 event, beat two Olympians, 15:6 each, much taller and much more senior than him.
Overall, fencers on the Olympic level tend to be on the shorter side, in fact. There’s a great analysis of the anthropometry of fencers in the 2012 London Olympics on Topend Sports. Here, you’ll see that male fencers tend to be right at 6 feet and female fencers average 5.5 feet. While that might make it seem like fencers have to be on the taller side to win, it’s not so stark when you look at the greats.
Here’s a quick list of fencers who are on the shorter side, in all weapons and across both genders.
- Aladár Gerevich, legendary men’s foilist, 5’10” (177 cm)
- Ruben Limardo Gascon, men’s epee, Olympic Champion London 2012, 5’9” (175 cm)
- Daryl Homer, men’s sabre, Olympic Silver Medalist Rio 2016, 5’7” (171 cm)
- Max Heinzer, men’s epee, World Team Champion, 5’10” (177 cm)
- Yuki Ota, men’s foil, World Champion, 5’7” (171 cm)
- Áron Szilágyi, men’s sabre, 3 times Olympic Champion 2012-2016-2020, 5’11” (180 cm)
- Lee Kiefer, women’s foil, Olympic Champion Tokyo 2020, 5′4″ (162 cm)
- Sera Song, ranked #2 in the world in women’s epee, 5’4” (162 cm)
- Koki Kano, men’s epee, Olympic Team Champion, Tokyo 2020, 5’8” (175 cm)
For both men and women in all fencing disciplines, there are plenty of examples of athletes who are on the shorter side who make it all the way to the top of the sport. In many tournaments, we see again and again that short fencers beat their tall opponents. Just like tall athletes, short ones use size to their advantage too.
Let’s go through some more detailed examples.
- Men’s Epee Olympic Champion in Tokyo 2021 Romain Cannone was the shortest men’s epee fencer in the Olympics at only 5’78” (174 cm)
- The last pre-pandemic European Champion 2019 in Men’s Epee was Yuval Freilich – he was also the shortest person in the championship at 5’7” (172 cm). You can read our interview with him here.
- London 2012 Olympic Champion in Epee Ruben Limardo from Venezuela is 5’9” (175 cm). In the final, he beat Norwegian Bartosz Piasecki who is 6’5” (196 cm).
- Olympic Epee Champion in Rio 2016 Sangyoung Park is 5’8” (177 cm). He beat Hungarian Imre Geza, 6’0” (184 cm)
- Nam Hyun-hee, 5’2” (157 cm) went all the way to the top of the Olympics in Beijing, fighting against renowned foilist Valentina Vezzali, 5’5” (165 cm) in the finals but losing to earn a silver medal.
- On the other side, it seems that the USA National Foil team is built of giants! Take a look: Alexander Massialas is 6’3″ (190 cm), Miles Chamley Watson is 6’4″ (193 cm), Race Imboden is 6’2” (189cm) and young upcoming foil star in the USA, Nick Itkin, is 6’1” (185 cm)
As you can see, in the last 3 Olympic Games the Epee Olympic Champions were the shortest men in the competition, and they won everybody! While at the same time the foil team in the USA, which is undoubtfully is very tall. This goes against traditional wisdom that it’s easier to be successful in foil if you’re short and easier to be successful in epee if you’re tall. It’s not about height!
The body is not a limitation in fencing
The lesson in all of this is that your body is not what is going to limit you from excelling in fencing and winning competitions. Working on yourself and focusing on reaching beyond your limitations will ensure any hardworking fencer will have the opportunity to be able to compete against opposition of all sizes. For those that are reliant on their size or physicality, please remember that leaning on your natural gifts is no substitute for finding the best strategy to move your body in a way that gives you an advantage over your opponent.
On the flip side, do your due diligence and make sure that you are working hard outside of your gym. Physical exercise and practicing your fencing is necessary for your growth as a competitor, but a lot of the work that the best fencers do outside of the gym sets them apart from the rest of their contemporaries. Watching tape of yourself or others will give you a sense of how people use their size to give them a winning edge. Match footage is a great way of observing how you move from a neutral point of view, can inform you on your weakness and blind spots, and give you ideas on how to exploit your opponent’s. Remember: reading your competition’s movements is much more critical to becoming a better fencer and winning a match than height ever will be.
At the end of the day, it’s important to regard your body as something to work with and not around or against. You are who you are and what makes you different is something to be empowered by. Lean into what makes you unique but never rely on what comes naturally to you. Every fencer is of a different shape and size, and those variables inevitably give each athlete a series of advantages and disadvantages when they come face to face with an opponent in the club. Your child is not too short for fencing, no matter the weapon they gravitate towards.
Learn the best way to utilize the physicality you possess because your body is the only one that you will ever get – so appreciate what you do have! The best athletes work harder and smarter than the others to overcome their obstacles.
Regardless of your height, all fencers must train to conquer their shortcomings. No pun intended, of course.
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