From “love” and “let” in tennis to “alley-oop” and “pick and roll” in basketball, every sport has its own language. For the sport of fencing, that language is French.

En garde! Touché! Piste. Parry-riposte.

This summer, one of the world’s most historic and traditional sports – it’s one of just five to have appeared at every iteration of the modern Olympics – returns to its spiritual home when fencing gets underway at the 2024 Paris Games.

Back to the birthplace

“This is every fencer’s dream come true,” says Alexander Massialas, a three-time Olympic medalist in foil and member of the U.S. team headed to Paris in July. “France is like the birthplace of our sport, right? So, from the very beginning, there has always been a history of fencing in France.”

Evidence of sword-based dueling can be traced back to Ancient Egypt, but fencing as a non-lethal, competitive sport truly emerged as a product of the Renaissance period in Europe, during a time when beauty, skill and decorum took precedence over war and conflict.

This is every fencer’s dream come true.

Though the first fencing masters hailed from Italy, much of what would become modern-day fencing originated in the Parisian academies in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was in those academies where the flexible, flat-tipped training blade known as the foil was invented. In the following years, the epee and the mesh fencing mask would also originate in France.

To this day, fencing referees at major competitions are required to utter their commands and rulings in French, as has been the case for centuries.

A unique passion

Fencing’s importance to the country of France is not just a thing of the past, however.  Even among a crowded sports landscape that includes a World Cup-winning national soccer team, the iconic Roland Garros tennis tournament and cycling’s Tour de France, fencing holds a prideful place within the nation’s sporting culture.

“There's so much love for the sport in France. There really isn't any place quite like that and I've competed in 20-plus countries all over the world,” Massialas says. “It is a sold-out stadium every year, thousands of spectators, it's just such a unique experience.”

“It’s magical,” says American sabre fencer Magda Skarbonkiewicz. “To have a country that cares so much about fencing can oftentimes be rare because it’s a smaller sport.”

Throughout the years, France’s fencers have certainly done their part to keep the sport top of mind. With 44 Olympic gold medals and 123 total medals, France only trails Italy as the most successful fencing nation in history. In Tokyo, France took home five total medals, including gold in men’s individual epee and men’s team foil.

“France, when we see them at World Cups and stuff, you can just tell that their team, their country cares so much for their fencers. They have a lot of resources,” U.S. sabre fencer Tatiana Nazlymov says.

An iconic stage

It should come as no surprise, given the country’s indelible ties to fencing, that France is expected to go to great lengths to showcase the sport at the Paris Games this summer.

The fencing competition will take place in the Grand Palais, a legendary cultural center and architectural marvel located on the Champs-Élysées, originally constructed for the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1900. Throughout its history, the Grand Palais has hosted countless prestigious exhibitions, concerts and events and has showcased art from the likes of Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet and Andy Warhol.

“It's beyond exciting,” 2023 world sabre champion Eli Dershwitz says. “It's hard for me to put into words how excited I am to be able to compete in a venue such as the Grand Palais in such a historically significant city like Paris.”

The Grand Palais will host fencing for the second time in its history after staging the 2010 World Fencing Championships. However, the venue has been under renovation and closed to the public since 2021 and will reopen specifically to host the fencing program at the Olympics.

Tickets for all medal sessions originally cost between $98 and $315, but sold out shortly after releasing. Approximately 8,000 people will fill the stands inside the Grand Palais for nine consecutive nights of fencing competition.

“It's going to be fully packed,” Skarbonkiewicz says. “It's honestly going to be a chaotic but amazing experience.”