The sound of clashing swords, shouting combatants and excited chatter filled Bartle Hall over the weekend as young fencers from around the country came to compete in the USA Fencing Junior Olympic Championships.
Nearly 2,000 of the best young fencers in the U.S. were there, many hoping to make their way someday to the Olympics. The weekend tournament is one of the final selection events for the 2017 Junior and Cadet World Championship team that will compete in Bulgaria in April. Some former Olympians were on hand as coaches.
The tournament began Friday and continues into Monday, with a variety of events for male and female fencers, sorted by age into under-20 and under-17 classes. Fencers match up in three separate disciplines, according to their weapon of choice: the epee, the foil or the saber.
All weekend, competitors in each event eliminate each other one by one until someone wins the gold medal. They faced each other on narrow mats lined up across the hall, with dozens of events taking place at the same time.
On Sunday morning, 14-year-old Madeleine Nishimura, from Walnut Creek, Calif., picked up her foil, slipped a mask over her face, and stepped onto a mat across from another opponent.
Madeleine had felt a little off her game in previous matches that morning. Her timing was off and her sword wasn’t landing quite where it was supposed to. The bouts unfold in periods of just seconds, and there is little room for error.
Her mother, Vivienne Nishimura, watched from the sidelines. “It’s a very humbling sport,” Nishimura said. “The kids work so hard, and there can only be one winner.”
Madeleine’s match started. She whipped her foil into the opponent and scored a point. She regained some confidence and, in a succession of quick strikes, won the match.
As soon as the masks come off, the fighting turns to good sportsmanship and the fencers congratulate each other.
“For me, it’s the safe combat sport,” Madeleine said. “You get to release a lot of fire. You get to use all of your own emotion and personality and technique to create your own style.”
The event, which is free and open to the public, continues Monday at 8 a.m. For more information, visit usfencing.org/2017-junior-olympics.