With the London Olympics long gone, many minority sports have faded into the background of the public’s consciousness for another four years. Chris Woodward looks at how fencing has become one of its victims and interviews members of the Swansea University Fencing Club.
One of the founding sports of the Olympics, fencing features as an individual event, a team event and as part of the Modern Pentathlon; yet it remains a sport for the minority and enjoys only sporadic support from the general public. In an interview with some members of Swansea University Fencing Club, I discover their views on the image of Fencing and effect they felt the Olympics had on their sport.
Richard Rapier is Captain of the men’s Fencing team at Swansea University and ranks in the top 100 sabreurs in the country. He has won bronze at both the Wrexham Open and the London Open. Back home trains at Truro Fencing Club in Cornwall, a club he represented at the Excalibur Inter-county tournament when he was 18. Truro is a hotbed of fencing talent in the UK and many of the GB Olympic team train there, so Richard is well placed to see the ‘Olympic’ effect on his sport. George Orchart is a foilist who has fenced since he was 8 years old. He began at school and now trains at both Gwent Sword and Bristol, at the South West Centre of Excellence. He was under 16s Public Schools Champion at age 15, and at age 17 he represented England in the under 20s category at the Commonwealth Championships in Penang 2009, where he won a bronze medal.
Megan Lillycrop hails from Cardiff and has had great success with a sabre, finishing 4th in the Cadet Championships under 17s, and has represented Wales at the Commonwealths, finishing 6th in the individuals and a brilliant silver in the team sabre event. She’s joined the Swansea Women’s team this year, and has high hopes for their success.
Siren: Hello! I know you have a match today so I’ll try not to keep you. How are things?
Rich: Good, we’re looking forward to the matches today; we should see some domination from both our teams. The women are against Southampton, the men are against Aberystwyth, and we’re definitely hoping to win.
Siren: Great news! So, you guys all have impressive records in the fencing, but how did you get into it? What were your perceptions of the sport before you started?
George: Well obviously I was very young when I started, and I only really tried it because my school was offering rugby, football or fencing as an extra activity and I didn’t want to do the others!
Megan: Same kind of thing with me really, I was at a summer camp on the Isle of Wight and they were giving beginners lessons, so I just tried it out and I haven’t looked back. I didn’t really know much about it before I began, I just knew I didn’t want to do swimming (the other activity) and this looked much more interesting.
Rich: I started when I was 11; my mum fenced a little and took me and my brother along. He soon dropped out but I was confident enough to want to keep going. I soon made some good friends and I love the sport so I’ve kept it up. I guess before I went for the first time I thought I was going to be Zorro or something-
George: I was thinking d’Artagnan personally.
Rich: Yeah that kind of thing. Most people don’t really know about it as a sport, it’s very old but it seems to be well hidden. For the record, sadly it’s nothing like Zorro…
Megan: I think most people just think it’s the sport where they poke each other with swords
George: Or that it’s a posh sport for posh people, but it really isn’t. There are people from all walks of life, and clubs provide equipment so even though it can get expensive, it doesn’t have to if you’re on a budget.
Me: So what effect do you think the London Olympics has had on your sport in general?
Rich: There’s been a big increase in the number of people turning up in Truro so it’s definitely had a positive effect. The publicity Fencing received just by being on the TV was a huge plus.
George: I’ve seen the same, since London the numbers in Bristol are up and plenty of people said they saw it on the TV and thought they’d give it a go. I think it created a general buzz within the sport; it was good for us to been acknowledged by the public.
Megan: I think the ticketing system helped a lot. People didn’t know what they would be able to see, so I think they might have put in for tickets to all kinds of events. I reckon a lot of people thought Fencing might be something a bit different and put their names down, and so went to see it when perhaps they wouldn’t normally be that bothered. I’ve seen a huge increase in numbers at Cardiff, and my coach put on a big beginners session for a mass of people starting sabre, which was fantastic!
Siren: So finally before you kit up for the match today, what’s Fencing like here at Swansea? Rich perhaps you’ll want to answer first, seeing as you’re Captain!
Rich: Well it’s great of course! In all honesty though it’s been improving dramatically over the last year and a half, and we’ve got lots of talented fencers now. Some have come in already trained, but four of our female fencers have been trained here at Swansea Uni and it’s great to have been able to help with bringing people into the sport. We like to compete but we’re definitely about having fun and socialising – our annual laser zone and pirate socials prove it! Numbers are much higher than previous years so we’re definitely still riding the Olympic wave.
Siren: Megan you’re a first year here, what do you think?
Megan: I like it! I bumped into the Club President (Joseph Mountford) at Freshers Fayre before I could even make it to the stand which was nice. Even though I was already intending to join he was really friendly and enthusiastic about moving the club forward. It was good to see how much the guys here want their club to be successful.
Swansea Fencing Club is benefitting from the fallout of the Olympics, and they hope that they can maintain that boost once the hubbub has dwindled away. It’s been several months now since the showcase of sport ended and Fencing is slowly drifting back into the outer rim of consciousness, and once more sports like rugby and football are dominating the airwaves. The Club has managed to build on success however, and hopes the future is bright. For the record, both teams went on to win.
By Chris Woodward