Fencing - why are they tied to a wire?

I was watching some Olympic fencing today, and I noticed that the fencers have wires tied to their backs. At first I thought it was a safety thing, to keep them from falling forward, but there seems to be too much slack in the wire for that.

So what is it for?

It’s a hookup to their vest for electronic scoring of hits. Touch the other guy with the scoring part of your weapon and the vest shows a hit. The USSR got in big trouble a few Olympics ago when they rigged their epees to go off when the fencer pushed a button, not when they hit. They got busted for it when one of their fencers “scored” a touch that was so far away from target, it looked like a bad Hollywood stunt. :smiley:

It’s for electronic touch scoring:

It’s for the automatic scoring system. They’re wearing a special suit that sends out a signal when it’s touched by the épée/foil/sabre. Essentially, when the electrified blade touches the suit it closes a circuit.

That makes sense! I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.

I noticed a judge pointing to the fencers when they scored a hit (which is probably why I didn’t make the connection with the wires and the scoring). In the case of a discrepancy between the electronic scoring and the judge, what happens?

Fencing without an electrified vest, the fencers are allowed to hold their left hands behind their backs, where they are safe from being thwacked. When electrified, though, the left hand should be held out, slightly behind the body, so that it is clear the fencer isn’t unplugging his vest, thereby defeating the scoring system. It’s very easy to let one’s left hand move forward, and most fencers have gotten thwacked across the knuckles this way. Ouch-ouch-ouch.

I believe that the electronic system just shows if a “hit” has happened. Fencing has a complicated system of rules that dictate if you are allowed to score a hit depending on which fence has the right of way. So touching the opponent may not actually score you a point if you did it in the wrong way.

The electronic system is just a tool for the judge to use his/her judgement has precedence. This is especially important in foil and sabre. When the two fencers score a hit at the same time (called a simultanée) the fencer that was attacking gets the point. There’s a lot of judgement involved and even if the defending fencer touched slightly before often the point will still go to the attacker.

There are very specific rules regarding this. Generally, the judge must abide by the scoring box. If both lights come on but, in his view, actions were simultaneous (in foil and saber), then no touches are scored (in épée, when both lights come on, each fencer scores a touch). If a touch occurs but there is an equipment problem (one of the fencers has accidently come unhooked, the defender’s weapon breaks, etc.) then he can annul the touch. Also, if the strip isn’t grounded, the fencers’ lights will go off if they hit the floor, and these are obviously annuled. There are other situations in which the judge can annul touches, but in general when a light goes off the judge must award a point.

In foil and saber, there is a complex system of “right of way” which determines who gets the point when two lights go off. Like I said above though, the judge can also call the action simultneous (i.e., both fencers equallt had right of way), and no one scores.

Perhaps I should mention that this only applies to foil and épée. A saberist’s light will never go off unless he hits his opponent’s lamé (metallic vest).

In foil, a white light will come on if the foilist hits something besides his opponent’s lamé, indicating a touch off target. Off target touches in foil do stop the action, and are considered when deciding right of way. For example, let’s say two bouting foilists hit each other, one on target and one off target. If the off-target hit has right of way, no touch is scored. If the on-target hit has right of way, a touch is scored.

I haven’t fenced since college where I did foil and epee. I never liked saber because it seemed to me that a sport where the judge calls “do over” a half dozen times in a row wasn’t really something I wanted to be involved in. I presume that this isn’t the case at the Olympic level. The guy who judged all of our tournaments was rated C in Sabre and a national level (possible FIE-level) armorer, so he knew his stuff and there were still scores of “do overs” per match.

Re: keeping you from falling. I wish it did that. Would have saved me a lot of embarrassment.

In non-olympic competition and practice fencing there are those of us traditionalists who disdain the use of electronic scoring (and the cost of the lamé and other equipment), but actions in fencing are so fast that the electric signal is a reasonable substitute for drawing blood.

2slow 2fence anymore,

I took a multimeter to a fencing foil we had once. That one closed a circuit when (1) the foil touched the vest and (2) at the same time, the end of the foil was pressed. I think in the sports where a hit anywhere counts, you wouldn’t need the vest.

In foil, valid hits are to the torso only. A vest (lamé) is used to designate the area of contact.

Epeé uses the entire body as a valid target. Or did, anyway. Toes, fingers an’ all. No need for a metal overlaying uniform.

Sabre target areas are from the waist up. I don’t understand the use of a vest here, unless the whole mask is also electrified, and the arms and hands (gloves), but the sabre has to be insulated.

But, things may have changed. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in competition.

[FONT=Verdana] About 30 years ago, I used to attend fencing matches with my husband, who was a fencing judge at the time. There were no lights at all for sabreists then and their fencing jackets were plain unwired cotton. When did sabre fencing start using lights?

What did they do before electronic scoring? Was it just what the judge saw, or did they use some sort of marking material?

It’s what the judge and his/her assistants sees. Ideally, there’ll be four assistants with a pair watching each fencer. At least two people must call a point for it to be scored. At least that’s the way it worked in my sabre days. The electronic scoring equipment is cumbersome, expensive and not terribly accurate in sabre so it wasn’t used much outside of semis and finals.

Perhaps it’s relatively easy to notice a hit on the helmet or arm, especially if the victim is either sportsmanlike and admits it, or jumps up and down clutching his elbow saying “Ow!”, but it’s harder to tell a just-above-the-waist from just-below-the-waist, and THERE, the jacket helps.

But even with a jacket, the easiest way to cheat in non-electronic scoring sabre is to go “ouch!” and hold your thigh when you get hit slightly above the belt. Of course, that’s something refs watch out for but sometimes it’s really hard to tell.

I believe saber started using electric scoring in the 80s. For some reason, saberists were behind the times for quite a while. I think there used to be a rule that saberists had to hit their opponent with a certain amount of pressure for a point to be scored. (Whether enough pressure was applied was a judgment call for the ref.) With the current electric equipment, a touch will cause a light to come on no matter what the pressure, so electric scoring equipment changed the game.

A certain amount of pressure is still required for foil (500g) and épée (750g), since it’s easier to make it mechanically detectible with only the tip. (Saber is a cutting weapon, foil and épée are for stabbing only.)

jovan is right that they use four assistants when fencing “dry” (unelectrically) to help the judge determine when a touch has been scored. Before electric equipment was perfected, they also tried a number of other things. They tried daubbing the tip of the weapon with ink so that a mark would appear on the opponent’s vest when touched. They also tried putting barbs on the tips so that it would catch on the opponent’s jacket when touched. Obviously, both of these methods were far inferior to electric scoring, and were abondoned entirely.

The whole mask is also electrified. Saberists have to use special all-metal masks which connect to the lamé.

Of course, in the olympics they required the use of masks with a clear rectangle of fiberglass over the eyes. I guess that part couldn’t be touched for a score.

They also use a glove with a metallic cuff, but the rest of the hand isn’t target.