See this picture? Look at it for an hour and that's what watching fencing was like. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
During these Olympics, Poseur will spend each day watching and reviewing one sport. He also promises to stop referring to himself in the third person.
Today's Sport: Fencing
Man, the Olympics are violent. Think of the sports we've imbibed so far: shooting arrows, throwing people and kicking them, and now swordplay. The one sport I've watched not built on inherent violence has been cycling, and that was partially decided by a massive crash. The Olympics: come for the athletic competition, stay for the bloodlust.
Fencing is one of the oldest Olympic sports. It was actually contested in the first Olympics, and has been part of the program in every single Olympics, even if the events have slightly changed. There are three different events: foil, sabre, and epee. I have no real idea what makes them different and really only know each of them as common crossword clues. But, with a little research, I chose epee as my entry point into fencing for one simple reason: it is the only event in which it is legal to stab someone in the face.
Epee is the only event that allows double touching and has a hit zone which encompasses pretty much the whole human body. The swords move so fast in fencing it's almost impossible to keep track of, so I like the event in which I don't have to worry about target areas or any such nonsense. And with some luck, maybe I'll see someone get stuck in the head (not injured, mind you, just a good whack to the noggin).
The Favorites: China
Waitaminute, I hear you saying. What about Mariel Zagunis? Didn't she hold the flag? Didn't we sweep the medals last time? Yes, we did. In sabre. This is epee. Try to keep up. The Americans aren't nearly the medal favorites here as we are in sabre.
Know what's better than rooting for someone to win? Rooting for someone else to lose. Yeah, it's mean-spirited and petty, but it sure is fun. The US-China rivalry is the best thing to happen to the Olympics since the end of the Cold War. And as someone who has spent a good portion of his time watching the obscure events, I'm getting a little sick of losing to China. They've been kicking our asses, head to head. And while we have a narrow medal count lead, China's racking up the gold medals. This must be stopped.
Oh, I should mention Italy is always a threat. They are dominant at fencing, traditionally. One of my favorite things about the Olympics is finding out that other nation's get their chance to shine by taking a sport we don't think about at all VERY seriously. South Korea in archery, the Dutch in cycling, and now Italy in fencing. This will be a running theme. And since we are in full on Hate China mode here, let's go Italy!
The Gold Medal: Ukraine
Ukraine's Yana Shemyakina won a tightly contested final over defending gold medalist, Germany's Britta Heidemann. She won in an extra time as well, and by all rights, she should be praised for winning a closely contested bout. But yeah, no one's gonna care about any of that because oh my God, did the excrement hit the air conditioning in the semifinals.
Like judo, there were no commentators, so I was left to figure things out on my own, so some of this is pieced together well after the fight, but here is the basic gist: South Korea's A Lam Shin and Heidemann fought to a draw in an exceedingly boring fight. Shin spent most of the match trying to run out the clock, making me hate her passionately. The two went to extra time in a 5-5 tie, which is just absurd, considering fencing is first to 15 points. I can't truly explain just how excruciatingly tedious the match was and how badly I wanted Heidemann to stab Shin A in the face.
The clock stopped with no time on the clock, but the official clearly called for one second to be put back on. The timer obliged, and then all sorts of hell broke loose. The official called for a start three separate times, and Heidemann lunged forward in a desperate attempt to score a point. Each time, a buzzer went off and no time came off the clock. On the fourth attempt, they apparently got things right, Heidemann got a touch, the clock clicked to zero after what seemed like more than a second, and the South Korean coach flipped his shit.
Now, I can't tell you if it was the right call. It seemed like time should have come off the clock, and it did seem like a really long second when they finally restarted. That said, it turns out that Shin won a coin flip and knew she would win the match if extra time ended in a tie. This explains her cynical play and why I'm not overflowing with sympathy for her. Then again, she had a pretty good point.
Here's something I did not know about fencing: if the fencer leaves the piste, it is ruled to be an acceptance of the judge's decision. Since Shin A clearly did not accept the judge's decision, she stood there while her coach yelled at the judges for a good half an hour. Then, the judges ruled Heidemann was the winner and Shin sat down and did not get up. For another hour. It was like watching Roy Jones in Seoul all over agin. Eventually, after putting up a money bond (seriously), she took her protest and left the stage. She promptly lost the bronze medal match to Yujie Sun of China.
Poseur's Enjoyment Level: Stratospheric
OK, the semifinals were a bit of a bore, and there's nothing less exciting than watching a Korean girl sit down and cry for an hour, but other than that... holy crap. Tense matches, ridiculous set up, great finishes, and controversy and intrigue? Can we do this again? At least no one cares the fencing officials played the wrong national anthem during a gold medal ceremony yesterday now that there's a bigger controversy.
This whole day was a beautiful disaster. As I had no real rooting interesting, it made my day.
Swimming & Track Update:
You know who is exceptionally hard to root for? Ryan Lochte. Doesn't he seem like the kind of guy who wears an Affliction t-shirt and overuses the word "bro"? If he weren't an American, I would delight in his losses... no, scratch that. I do delight in his losses. I can't help it, I was rooting for France to win the 200 free just because A) I really dislike Lochte and B) f'n China. At least Yang Sun finished second, but wow, is Yannick Agnel having a great Olympics or what? I can step back from our usual jingoism and admit that he seemed to be the most likeable guy in the field so I'm happy he won the gold. Good on him.
Speaking of likeable... Missy Franklin. The usual NBC sob story was beyond lame because it seems she's about as ordinary of a 17-year-old as humanly possible. She's a sweet, suburban kid who happens to be really terrific at swimming. NBC tried to make a big deal out of her swimming a bunch, which actually happens a lot in these sorts of meets, but it was kind of cool to see the time pressures, even if it was self-serving as all hell. I enjoyed her win and scared the dog when a let out a celebratory whoop.
The US won two of the four golds on the line last night, plus two more silvers. The only real dud was Lochte and... well, I'm sort of glad he's the guy failing to live up to expectations. The US is now in sole possession of first place in swimming golds (4 to France's 3) and has a remarkable 12 overall medals. The closest other nation is China with 5. The US is only one total medal behind the next three nations in the medal count combined (China, Australia, and Japan have a combine 13 medals and 6 of those are bronze).
Next Up: Equestrian.