Olympic Fencing Qualification Updates - May 2020

The road to Olympic Fencing qualification isn’t a straight one this time around. There are always surprises, but this year (next year now), coronavirus has made the whole process a lot more interesting and a lot less sure. 

One related and important piece of news that also came out this week is that the chief officer of the Olympics, Thomas Bach, has stated that the games will not be postponed longer than 2021. If they cannot be held next year, the games will be canceled outright. To be clear – the organizers have said that they do not forsee the need to postpone beyond 2021, and there is no intention to do so. Of course, there was no intention to postpone them to begin with.

He said “You cannot every year change the entire sports schedule worldwide for all the major federations. You cannot have the athletes being in uncertainty, you cannot have so much overlapping with a future Olympic Games.”

The new Olympic dates are July 23 to August 8, 2021. We don’t yet know what form they will take. It is possible that they could be held without fans, though no decisions have been made yet, and IOC does not like this option at all. What we are hoping is that they will be held in some form! To that end, we now have a clear idea of what the fencing qualification procedures will be for the 2020 Olympics in 2021. 

FIE and Olympic Qualification for 2021

These plans are as much of a concrete solution as we could have hoped for during this time of change, but it does feel good to at least have some firm decisions!

The International Fencing Federation (FIE) also updated the deadlines for finishing out Olympic qualification for the 2020 Olympics which will be held in Tokyo in 2021. The specifics of what is needed to qualify have not changed. The number of events has not changed either – twelve events each with the possibility to medal, with both team and individual competitions in foil, epee, and sabre for both women and men. 

Just as outlined before the postponement, there will be eight teams competing in each of the events. 

  • The four teams with the highest FIE world ranking
  • The top ranking team from each continental group (Asia/Oceania, Africa, America, and Europe) that are ranked 5-16
  • Deadline of April 5, 2021

In the event that none of the teams in a continental group are that rank of 5-16, then the team with the highest ranking from one of the other continental groups will take that place, no matter where they are located. 

Also as outlined before the postponement, the individual championships will each have thirty-four athletes. 

  • Six rated FIE fencers who must come from countries who have not qualified for the team. One each from America and Africa, and two each from Asia/Oceania and Europe.
  • Four fencers who win their continental group qualification tournaments, so one from each continental group
  • The host country, Japan, may add eight fencers across team and individual competition
  • Fencers qualified for the team competition are automatically qualified for the individual competition
  • FIE Pre-Olympic Qualification Ratings are final on April 5, 2021
  • Continental zone qualifier competitions will be held between April 15 and April 30, 2021

There won’t be any additional competitions held as part of the process of Olympic selection. Competitions that were canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic will be played. There are events that had already finished their selection, specifically team foil competitions for both women and men. Those results are done, so they can’t be changed. 

What are the standings?

We do have some standings already, specifically in foil. It is strange to know who will be in the Olympics for team foil a year ahead of time!

For Men’s Foil, eight teams are qualified. 

  • The United States
  • France
  • Italy
  • Russia
  • Hong Kong
  • Egypt
  • Germany
  • Canada

Here it is somewhat shocking that Japan, who won the silver medal in London in 2012, has not made the cut. China is also out, after being home to the Individual Gold medalist in 2012 Lei Sheng.

For Women’s Foil, eight teams are also qualified.

  • Russia
  • Italy
  • France
  • The United States
  • Japan
  • Canada
  • Hungary
  • Egypt

But of course, Japan as a host, can put up to additional 8 athletes, including teams. So if they did not qualify in some weapon, they can field up to two teams for these events. If they would ask my opinion, I think that they should put men’s foil team (4 people). Women’s Foil and Men’s Epee will be qualified via regular path. Sabre teams and Women’s Epee have less chances for success and their athletes should be added only to individual events based on individual readiness closer to the event, as I think there might be more individual surprises in the Olympics then team surprises. If they would only ask me 🙂

We know all of the foil for the team events! That is something very solid. 

We don’t know Women’s and Men’s sabre, or Women’s and Men’s Epee. These team events still have their World Cup competitions to fence in both sabre and epee, which will have to happen before that April deadline. 

We DO know that there are two teams who have ranked well enough to qualify for sure. Italy (evviva!) and the UNITED STATES! (hurray!!). Russia and France can also be very close and almost got all of their six teams qualified before quarantine, each has at least 2 team events where they need to perform exceptionally well and rely on some luck with other teams placement to qualify, sometime on expense of each other. These World Cups, whenever they happen, will be very interesting to watch.  

I am following the French team closely because it is historically a fencing superpower. It is of note that the French are looking for a miracle to get the very traditionally French weapon of epee to participate in the women’s team event. The first French Olympic Gold for Women’s Epee Team came in 1996 in Atlanta when this event was introduced to the Olympics. It will be a major challenge for them to move up significantly in the final World Cup, and the chances are not good for them. We love these kinds of battles in the qualification however. Maybe there will be a big movement to shake things up! Especially with this extra time in postponing, you never know. 

Men’s sabre is an event that’s seen some interesting developments. France and Russia are pitted against each other in the last World Cup, as only one of those teams will be able to qualify for the games. The thing is that in the last five Olympic Games where men’s sabre was presented, France and Russia were each two time Olympic Gold medalists in the team event. France had additional silver in those years, and Russia had an additional bronze. It would quite sad not to see one of them competing in Tokyo. 

For the United States, it’s fantastic that all six teams have qualified. Truly, it is remarkable. However, the race is still open for the individual fencing qualification. We also don’t know for sure who will be on the teams! It will be a fascinating journey to see that. 

We are so looking forward to ending this pandemic and returning back to normal and really hope all plays well! We don’t know when these final sets of competitions will be held, though we hope that they will. In this time of not knowing so many things, it feels good to have firm dates and potential paths to qualification. 

Who will be fencing in Tokyo? Will anyone be fencing in Tokyo? We’re putting out good thoughts for our beloved Olympic Games and for all of the fencers around the world who have worked so hard in pursuit of that Olympic dream. Stay healthy and optimistic!