[ALL IMAGES BORROWED FROM THE BBC]
Returning to the scene of some old crimes, I checked out the BBC’s Olympic fencing coverage, and it is reasonable online and via the red button. But briefly, prior to the main story (for which see below)… in other old, bad old news, we’re hearing stories of dodgy UK team selection issues. Apparently one fencer had failed to register his details with the selectors in time. Odd that; you’d have thought that during his last few years going to loads of foreign competitions and becoming a top British fencer (impossible without UK governing body co-operation) they’d have got A: the message that he was kind of interested in going to the Olympics, and B: his phone number. As the deadline approached, wouldn’t someone have enquired about an obvious missing entry? With just that fencer there was another controversy over whether he had or hadn’t got enough points to qualify, and he wasn’t the only one. This of course, or to avoid all this, is why some countries nail the crude requirements to the noticeboard and say hang the subtle considerations, 1, 2, 3 in this race will go.
That was the background. When I got to the live feed, what did I see? A hall full of spectators and just one lonely competitor sitting on the edge of the piste. For ages and ages and ages.
Scooting back through the live feed the story emerged of a semi-final in the women’s indiv. epée…
One contestant was (see top photo) a big right-hander using a pistol grip and a German style. She even had what I now recognise as a German face. I’ve always liked the delicate way German women handle their clanky, old-fashioned-sounding language.
Her opponent of fairly average height and also right-handed, was a pommeller. In other words she’d fixed an “old-fashioned” straight grip on her épée, usually held near the rear end. This was like a gladiator with an ordinary sword, against one with the trident kit (net not included). I understood the pistol grip.
I seriously doubt whether anyone except the Italians and the Hungarians really understand pommelling. It’s really weird. It’s centre of gravity is a foot in front of your hand, and it feels like a totally different weapon. You feel a bit like an eel – perhaps you might also want to imagine you’re an Italian – but it’s great fun and you can make it work.
We’ll join the fight with just one second remaining on the clock. All the drama has yet to take place, and the vast majority of the elapsed time. The scores are equal, the electric box had been asked to randomly pick who’d win if neither was ahead when time ran out, and the lot had fallen upon Shin Lam.
Shin from South Korea is pinned to the back line so can’t retreat. On the “Allez”, Britta Heidemann flings herself forward and both fencers land a hit. Only singles count so they do it again. Still one second on the clock though. Same launch from the left which lands again, as does the stop-hit from the right.
The clock still says one second left. That just cannot be right. Even if each attack took half a second to arrive each time, it couldn’t have been less, and there’s reaction times to be added in. Perhaps because of that, a few moments after the second action was completed, the clock decides to change to zero. This means Shin Lam has won. But no. The clock mysteriously clicks back again so there’s one second left. Uh?! Later we were to be told that Shin had committed some minor infringement in the less than half a second that occupied the second action, and you cannot win on an infringement, which is why the extra second had been added. I didn’t notice either an infringement nor the referee’s announcement of one.
So the final “joust” takes place…
…and this time only Heidemann lands a hit.
If Shin leaves the piste it signals she’s accepted the result.
So she sits on the edge of the piste for the 75 minutes it takes for the wrong decision to be confirmed.
Eventually they try to get her to go…
…and she’s finally “helped” from the piste.
[Update 24th August 2012:
Steve Johnson has made an astonishing analysis
of the fight, including accurate measurement of exactly how many metres forward from her rear line Shin stole, and careful checking of all the fractions of seconds. He also gives us links to the video http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=4af061cT6E8#t=0s .
That is the start of the last-four stage, with the t=0s at the end signifying zero seconds. The whole thing lasts 3hrs 23mins. By replacing the t=0s by something else you can jump straight to any point. For example t=2070s jumps straight to the start of the Heidemann vs Shin fight.]
Anyway, with her coach’s help Shin prepares for the bronze medal fight-off.
Her opponent is the 6’ 1” Yujie Sun, the current world silver medalist, from China.
She gets off to a smashing start and soon draws ahead…
By the break before the final phase, the fuss might never have happened.
It’s been announced that the world governing body for fencing: the Fédération Internationale d’Escrime, is to award Shin Lam a special medal. But it does not make her feel better. She weighs 57kg, she’s 25, and her height is 1.67m (5’6″). I predict she’ll have a lot of support when she competes in the women’s épée team copetition on Saturday 4th August!
[Update 17th Aug 2012:
The Sth. Korean women’s épée team got the silver. Had Shin Lam got a medal, Sth. Korea would have leapfrogged Great Britain in the all-time women’s Olympic fencing table to 12th, all those S. Korea medals having been won since 2008. GB’s last was the steel-wristed Gillian Sheen’s foil gold in 1956. The women’s team épée was not held in 2008 (2 of the 12 possible fencing events are dropped each time by rotation) so Shin Lam couldn’t compete in the epee team. She was the Asian champion in 2010. Britta Heidemann was current Olympic champion from 2008.]
Heidemann lost to the Ukranian Shemyakina in the final.