Where did fencing originate?

Fencing derives from sword-based combat, which can be traced as far back as 1190 BC in Ancient Egypt. However, swordplay as a form of non-lethal sport began to evolve in Europe in the Middle Ages, first as military training and later as part of elaborate guilds.

By the 17th and 18th centuries, the sport of fencing had already begun to resemble what is seen at the Olympics today, with the invention of the flat-tipped foil weapon and wire-mesh masks, as well as rules governing procedure and target area.

Fencing was present at the very first modern Olympic Games in 1896, and is one of just five sports to appear at every edition of the Games.

Countries with the most Olympic fencing medals

Rank Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 Italy 49 46 35 130
2 France 44 43 36 123
3 Hungary 38 24 28 90
4 Soviet Union 18 15 16 49
5 United States 4 11 18 33
6 Russia 13 5 8 26
7 Poland 4 9 9 22
8 Germany 5 7 9 21
9 Romania 4 6 7 17
10 West Germany 7 8 1 16

Olympic fencing results by year

Tokyo, 2020

In one of the highlight moments of the Tokyo Games for the United States, Lee Kiefer became just the second American woman to ever win individual Olympic fencing gold when she defeated raining women's foil champion Inna Deriglazova in the gold medal bout. Kiefer's subsequent embrace with longtime coach Amgad Khazbak, who honed Kiefer's talents from an early age in Lexington, Kentucky, became one of the signature emotional moments of the Games. Kiefer's husband, Gerek Meinhardt, also took home hardware as part of the United States' bronze medal-winning men's foil team.

Host nation Japan also struck gold in Olympic fencing for the first time ever when its men's epee team defeated the Russian Olympic Committee, 45-36, in the final.

Rio, 2016 

Russia had a hugely successful showing at the Rio Games. The Russians won seven medals, including the gold in men's team foil, women's individual foil, women's individual sabre and women's team sabre. Yana Egorian played a big role in the Russian women's success in her Olympic debut. For the second consecutive Olympics, the U.S. failed to take home a gold medal in fencing, though they did claim two silver and bronze medals.

London, 2012

The London Games saw a shift in dominance as traditionally strong France left the piste empty handed. China earned a total of six medals, just one less than Italy who produced the most hardware across all disciplines. The Italians swept the podium in the women's individual foil event. However, three-time defending gold medalist Valentina Vezzali lost in the semifinals and left with bronze. First-time Olympian Elisa Di Francisca won gold against Arianna Errigo by a single touch. The fifth-ranked U.S. women won their first medal in the epee team event, beating out the second seeded Russian team for bronze. The women's individual epee semifinal ended with an hour long protest from South Korea's Shin A-Lam due to a controversial decision surrounding the reset of the time clock. Alaaeldin Abouelkassem won Egypt's first fencing medal, a silver, in the individual foil competition. He shared the honor with Venezuela's Ruben Limardo who won gold in individual epee and Norway's Bartosz Piasecki who took silver.

Beijing, 2008

Legendary Italian fencer Valentina Vezzali took home her third straight gold in the foil event. The American women swept the individual sabre competition, with Mariel Zagunis, Sada Jacobson and Becca Ward winning gold, silver and bronze, respectively. The three combined to give the U.S. a bronze in the team sabre event.

Athens, 2004

Women's individual saber made its Olympic debut, and produced an unlikely champion. American fencer Mariel Zagunis, a 19-year-old who did not qualify for the Games, defeated China's Tan Xue, 15-9, for the gold medal. The victory, coupled with Sada Jacobson's bronze, gave the U.S. its first medals in the 80-year history of Olympic women's fencing. Zagunis, whose parents rowed for the United States at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, was added to the American team two months after its selection by FIE, the sport's international governing body, when Nigeria declined to send its Olympic qualifier.

Sydney, 2000

After avenging a 1996 gold-medal bout loss to Romania's Laura Badea in the semifinals, Italy's Valentina Vezzali -- her hair dyed red on this occasion -- routed Rita Konig of Germany, 15-5, to win the women's individual foil gold medal. Vezzali dedicated her victory to former instructor Enzo Tricolli, who died a few months before the Atlanta Games.

Traditionally successful France earned a nation-best six fencing medals. But Russia bookended the competition with gold in the men's individual epee (Pavel Kolobkov) and men's team sabre, defeating France on both occasions. Also, Lee Sang-Ki (bronze, men's individual epee) put South Korea on the Olympic fencing medal chart for the first time, shortly before Kim Young-Ho (men's individual foil) earned the nation its first gold in the sport.

Atlanta, 1996

Women's individual and team epee events were introduced into Olympic competition. France's Laura Flessel, who was born in Guadeloupe but moved to Paris as a teen to focus on fencing, defeated countrywoman Valerie Barlois in the individual final. The duo then helped France win the team epee title as well.

Barcelona, 1992

Giovanna Trillini rallied from the repechage to win gold in women's individual foil, then led Italy to the first of what would be three consecutive Olympic titles in women's team foil. Trillini's total of four career gold medals is unsurpassed in women's fencing. 

Seoul, 1988

Behind a sweep of the women's individual foil event, West Germany won more fencing medals in Seoul than any other country (seven). Arnd Schmitt, a 23-year-old dental student, won gold in the men's individual epee with back-to-back, 10-9 victories in the semifinals and final.

Los Angeles, 1984

Dominated for decades by European nations, fencing had its first Olympic medalist from Asia when China's Luan Jujie won gold in women's individual foil. Though absent from the individual men's foil podium for the first time since 1960, France took bronze in the team foil competition to earn its 14th medal in that event at the previous 15 Olympics.

Moscow, 1980

As a member of the Soviet Union's silver-medal winning foil team, Vladimir Lapitsky almost died from wounds suffered during the semifinal match against Poland, when his opponent's foil broke through his protective clothing and penetrated his chest.

Mexico City, 1968

Italy won a medal in the men's team epee competition at every Olympics from 1920 through 1964. But in Mexico City, that streak of success came to an end, as Hungary, the Soviet Union and Poland earned the medals. Italy placed sixth. Winning gold in the 1964 men's individual sabre competition, Tibor Pezsa made it 11 victories at the previous 12 Olympics for Hungary in that event. Hungarians won the individual sabre at every Games from 1908 through 1964, the exception being 1920, when Italian Nedo Nadi prevailed.

Tokyo, 1964 

Ildiko Ujlaki-Rejto of Hungary -- who was born deaf -- won the gold medal in the individual foil event. When she began fencing as a teenager, her coaches communicated their instructions to her in writing.

Rome, 1960

Viktor Zhdanovich won the individual foil gold medal and helped the Soviet Union become the first nation since 1904 other than France or Italy to win the men's team foil event at the Olympics. A women's team event, foil, was added to the program for Rome, and the top-four teams were from the same countries as in the men's team foil: USSR, Hungary, Italy and Germany. However, the Hungarian women took silver, while their male counterparts finished fourth. Heidi Schmidt, a 21-year-old music teacher from Germany, won gold in the women's individual foil.

Melbourne, 1956

Hungarian Rudolf Karpati won the sabre competition for his first individual gold medal. Karpati, an eventual six-time Olympic champion, attributed his fencing success to his love of music, because both involve rhythm and timing.

Helsinki, 1952

Brothers Edoardo and Dario Mangiarotti of Italy finished first and second in the individual epee competition. Edoardo, converted by his father into a lefthander so he'd have an advantage in competition, ultimately competed at five Olympics and amassed a fencing-record 13 medals (6 gold, 5 silver and 2 bronze). Dario's career tally: one gold, two silver.

Paris, 1924

Women's fencing was added to the Olympic program, with an individual foil competition. The victor was Denmark's Ellen Osiier, who won all 16 of her bouts, scoring 80 touches and receiving only 34. Ellen's husband was Ivan Osiier, an Olympic fencer whose career spanned 40 years.

Antwerp, 1920

Versatile Italian Nedo Nadi won five of the six fencing competitions at the Games: all three team events, plus individual foil and sabre. Nadi, who won his first Olympic title as an 18-year-old at the Stockholm Games, was a World War I veteran decorated by the Italian government for his courage.

Stockholm, 1912

France boycotted the entire fencing competition after its proposal to include the upper arm as an attackable surface was rejected. The Italians, meanwhile, refused to participate in the epee events after their federation's proposal to lengthen the weapon's blade was denied. In team sabre, Austrian Otto Herschmann added a fencing silver medal to the Olympic bronze he won in 1896 as a swimmer.

London, 1908

Foil fencing was not included as a medal event in London because the organizers felt it wasn't "a form of sport which is improved by competition," according to the official report. Individual foil was included for exhibition only and team foil was off the program completely until 1920.

St. Louis, 1904

American Albertson Van Zo Post won five fencing medals in St. Louis, including gold in the "single sticks" event. Through 2021, he remains the only American man ever to win an Olympic gold medal in fencing.

Athens, 1896

Fencing was among the nine sports on the 1896 Olympic program. The Athens competition drew Greek royalty, including King George I. Foil expert Leon Pyrgos, the son of a former fencing master in the army, became Greece's first gold medalist of the modern Games.