Fencers make history in the women’s sabre at Tokyo 2020
Chinese teammates Shumei Tan and Jing Bian became the first ever women’s sabre Paralympic champions on Wednesday (25 August) as China swept all four gold medals on offer on the opening day of wheelchair fencing.
Full results are available at The International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS) Wheelchair Fencing website.
Tokyo 2020 saw the debut of the women’s sabre category A and B at the Paralympics so athletes were keen to make history.
International Paralympic Committee President, Andrew Parsons, and International Olympic Committee President, Thomas Bach, joined IWAS Wheelchair Fencing Executive Committee Chairperson Paz Szekeres, to watch the action unfold at the Makuhari Messe, as did local schoolchildren.
Women’s category A
The first of the two historic golds went to China’s world champion Jing Bian who overcame Georgia’s Nino Tibilashvili for the win.
Tibilashvili seemed unsettled in the early points and Bian was patient, picking up a 7-1 lead.
A couple of video challenges from Tibilashvili overturned decisions to add some more points to her tally but Bian had already reached double-digits at 10-4.
Bian’s precision continued and she won the match at 15-7.
Tibilashvili however registered her own notable achievement – her Paralympic silver medal is Georgia’s first in wheelchair fencing.
“This is my first Paralympic Games and I’m so happy to win a silver medal.
“I’m really happy also because it’s the first medal for my country in wheelchair fencing at the Paralympic Games, so it’s really amazing.
“It’s Georgia’s history now.”
Ukraine’s Yevheniia Breus took bronze from Hungary’s Eva Andreja Hajmasi 15-10 and is already looking towards the future:
“I really wanted to be in the final at the Paralympics. I am going to compete in 2024. Of course, it is Paris!”
Women’s sabre category B
China’s Shumei Tan – making her Paralympic debut – became the first category B fencer to claim sabre Paralympic gold.
Following on from her incredible sweep of sabre and epee world titles from 2019, Tan took on Ukraine’s Olena Fedota in the final.
The match started quickly with a flurry of hits from Tan, which continued as Fedota struggled to get into double figures on the scoreboard.
The Ukrainian seemed to pick up some extra energy and took three points in a row from Tan to make it 10-7, but could not find anything further as Tan closed the match 15-7.
Although Tan might have been expected to do well, she was less sure: “I did not expect this. I kind of tried not to think of the results. I was just trying to perform well and consistently. I feel very excited. My teammates had a very good start to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games!”
Georgia came close to a second medal with Irma Khetsuriani taking on Tan’s teammate Rong Xiao in the bronze medal match.
Xiao came in to the bout determined to prove her skills after missing out on the gold medal match. The Chinese fencer did not allow Khetsuriani too much of a look-in and took the bronze at 15-6.
Men’s category A
China’s Hao Li grabbed gold on his Paralympic debut in the men’s sabre category A, with some strong rivals being pushed out of contention along the way.
Li dispatched Rio 2016 bronze medallist teammate Jianquan Tian in the semi-finals, and 2019 World Championships bronze medallist Piers Gilliver of Great Britain in the round of 16.
His competitor in the gold medal match, Artem Manko, had a similar dazzling journey to the final having beaten his teammate and defending champion Andrii Demchuk in the semi-finals.
There was an aggressive start to the final with both Li and Manko eager to prove themselves.
Several points were traded off very quickly to bring the scores level at 8-8. But Li seemed to gain momentum, scoring four unanswered points with close hits to the weapon hand before Manko was able to respond and make it 10-10.
The pace slowed as the points became more crucial and both athletes were reaching back as far as possible to try and evade the other’s sabre. Li kept finding space and took the score to 14-10. Manko scored another two, feeding off the support from his teammates in the stands, but a final rush from Li took the score to 15-12 and gave him the first gold of Tokyo 2020.
“I’m very excited right now, but I felt very relaxed during the game,” Li said after the match.
“I wanted to try my best and what we practised as usual. I was just using my pace to get every point.
“During the match I started feeling like I was getting too anxious. My coach kept reminding me to relax, so I calmed down and adjusted my feelings, so I was able to perform my best.
“I wasn’t expecting a gold medal, but I did want to get a medal, and now I have a gold medal.”
Demchuk and Tian did however get a shot on bronze.
The match saw a strong start and a flurry of hits from Demchuk to take the score to 9-4
Demchuck seemed to stall under pressure and he was unable to respond to Tian taking the advantage. Tian won 15-9 to claim the bronze.
Men’s sabre category B
World Championships silver medallist Yanke Feng reached an emotional victory in the men’s sabre category B, throwing his head back and screaming in delight as he beat Poland’s 2016 third place finisher Adrian Castro to gold.
Both Feng and Castro were quick to land a number of points on their opponents drawing at 4-4 in the final as the tension built. Feng then scored four unanswered points before Castro was able to respond at the right moments to bring the score level again at 10-10.
Feng’s strategy was clear as he only allowed Castro one more hit before winning his gold medal.
“I met Adrian Castro a few times and there was very little chance for me to win points,” Feng said. “His arm is not that long, so he is a very aggressive athlete. In the first half of the match I decided to be aggressive, but when it came to the last part, I felt like the score were very close so I should change my strategy to become more conservative. I think my decision was smart and I had success with that, so I stuck with this strategy until the end of the match.
“My coach told me to believe in myself and to stick on my plan, do what I wanted to do, to not hesitate, be determined during the match.”
Greece’s Panagiotis Triantafyllou and France’s Maxime Valet went head-to-head for bronze, with the former securing Greece’s first medal of Tokyo 2020.
“Usually the bronze medallist is always happier than the silver one, because I still won a final. When I won the silver medal (in Rio 2016) I was a bit sad because I was so close to the gold medal. But now maybe the bronze is better than silver,” Triantafyllou said.
Wheelchair fencers return to the piste on Thursday (26 August) for the men’s and women’s epee category A and B competition.
Join IWAS Wheelchair Fencing on Twitter @IWASFencing for updates live from the competition arena and on Instagram @wheelchairfencing for the highlights of the day. Live updates for every match can be found on our website here.