Star performers shine at Wheelchair Fencing Grand Prix
There were few surprises as the year’s in-form athletes took titles at the final event of the year – the IWAS Wheelchair Fencing Grand Prix in Hong Kong.
In an event otherwise dominated by a strong Chinese squad, 2014’s outstanding athletes ended the season on a high at the IWAS Wheelchair Fencing Hong Kong Grand Prix (17-21 December).
Germany’s Simone Briese-Baetke finished a remarkable year by winning an incredible eighth title. Her opponent in the final of the women’s category B epee event, China’s Jing Jing Zhou, did not make it easy for the World No.1, but Briese Baetke battled hard to earn a 15-13 victory.
In the equivalent foil event, Beatrice Vio’s fairy tale year had a happy ending. The 17-year-old Italian missed the start of the season to concentrate on schoolwork, before returning to competition in seemingly better form than ever. Vio looked unstoppable as she took the title in Hong Kong, even appearing comfortable as she defeated China’s London 2012 gold medallist Fang Yao 15-6 in the final.
Great Britain’s Piers Gilliver is another young athlete that has established himself in 2014. He capped a great year by winning the men’s category A epee competition. China’s Jian Quan Tian, the winner of the event for the past two years, had to settle for bronze as Gilliver beat him 15-13 in the semi-final. Tian’s compatriot Gang Sun then suffered the same fate in the gold medal match. Gilliver fenced with clinical precision when it mattered to win 15-12.
Gang Sun fared better with the foil discipline, beating his countryman Yijun Chen to win the category A gold medal. Reigning Paralympic champion Ruyi Ye shared third place in the event with Poland’s Dariusz Pender.
China dominated the equivalent women’s event in similar style, with Jing Rong defeating teammates Xu Feng Zou and Jing Bian in the semi-final and final respectively.
Nowhere was China’s strength in depth more apparent than in the team events. A Chinese team featuring multiple Paralympic champions never looked threatened as they cruised to gold in the men’s team foil event. China beat Poland 45-24 to take the title.
It was a similar story in the women’s team epee competition, with China proving too strong for their Russian opponents in the final.
The world’s top wheelchair fencers can now rest and prepare for next year. With 2015 being a World Championship year, and the race to qualify for Rio 2016 intensifying, it is set to be a season to remember.