How is the Olympic fencing competition structured?

Individual events

Individual fencing events at the Olympic Games utilize a single-elimination, bracket-style format where fencers must win head-to-head bouts to advance to the next round. Fencers are initially seeded based on their FIE (fencing's global governing body) ranking. 

Bouts are contested over nine minutes — three, three-minute periods separated by one-minute breaks. The first fencer to score 15 touches, or the fencer leading after the end of the third period, is the winner. That fencer either advances to the next round or claims a medal, if the bout is a final. 

If fencers are tied at the end of the nine minutes, a one-minute, sudden-death tiebreaker period is contested, in which the first fencer to score a touch is declared the winner.

Team events

Team fencing events at the Olympic Games also follow a single-elimination format, in which teams of three fencers compete against teams from other nations for the right to advance. Matches are contested to 45 touches. 

A team match is made up of nine bouts, during which each member of one team faces off against each member of the opposing team once. For example, if Team 1 includes fencers A, B and C and Team 2 includes fencers X, Y and Z, the order of the bouts would be as diagrammed below. Each bout lasts a maximum of three minutes and concludes either when the three minutes expires or when the winning team reaches the maximum score for that round.

Team fencing match bout order
Bout # Team 1 fencer (ABC) Team 2 fencer (XYZ) Max winning team score
1 Fencer C Fencer Z 5
2 Fencer A Fencer Y 10
3 Fencer B Fencer X 15
4 Fencer A Fencer Z 20
5 Fencer C Fencer X 25
6 Fencer B Fencer Y 30
7 Fencer A Fencer X 35
8 Fencer B Fencer Z 40
9 Fencer C Fencer Y 45

The amount of touches a fencer can score per bout is limited only by the maximum winning team score. For example, if the above match enters bout No. 4 with Team 1 leading Team 2, 15-11, Fencer A can score up to five touches to reach the maximum score of 20. However, Fencer Z can score up to nine touches to reach the same maximum score.

If time expires in the final bout with both teams tied in total score, the fencers who contested bout No. 9 remain on the piste for a one-minute, sudden-death tiebreaker round.

Teams are allowed to carry a maximum of one alternate fencer, who may replace any of the three initial fencers via a substitution. Substitutions may only occur in between bouts. The fencer that was removed via substitution may re-enter the match later, but only in place of the alternate.

How many rounds do Olympic fencing tournaments have?

Individual events

Individual fencing events at the Olympic Games include anywhere from 34 to 37 fencers, depending on how the FIE allocates certain quota spots. The first "round" of the competition features only the lowest-ranked fencers and includes however many bouts are necessary to reduce the field to 32 competitors. From there, the event includes a round of 32, a round of 16, a quarterfinal round, a semifinal round and a final round (the gold and bronze medal bouts). 

Team events

Team fencing events include a maximum of nine nations: eight qualified nations plus the host nation, if not already qualified. France, a historically strong fencing nation, has earned qualification for all six team events for the Paris 2024 Olympics, so the ninth slot won't be used.

Therefore, the team events at the Paris Games will begin with the quarterfinal round, then proceed to the semifinal round and then the medal matches. Unlike the individual events, however, eliminated teams will still contest matches against other eliminated teams to decide 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th place.