WITH reflexes as sharp as their blades, more than 600 competitors have been battling it out as Sheffield became the first British city to host the European Fencing Championships.
Some 39 countries are taking part in the event, which has been televised around the continent, and crowds of up to 1,000 spectators have gathered to watch the bouts at the English Institute of Sport Sheffield, in Attercliffe.
Great Britain has entered teams in both the able-bodied and wheelchair contests - with two of the 10 disabled competitors from South Yorkshire and their captain a member of a Chesterfield fencing club.
Both the Institute’s two sports halls have been hives of activity during the championship, which started last week and ends tomorrow, with up to a dozen bouts taking place at once.
There are separate men’s, women’s and team contests in three disciplines - which date back to ancient Egyptian times.
Simon Wilson, 52-year-old captain of the Great Britain disabled team and a member of Wingerworth Fencing Club, Chesterfield, said: “I’ve been fencing for 10 years, including the last four years in a wheelchair.
“I qualify as disabled because I lost one of my lower legs due to an illness in my childhood and have a prosthetic limb.
“I’m national champion in foil and epee and also probably the oldest person here - but the sport has made me the fittest I’ve ever been. The thrust of the sword is the second fastest moving thing in sport, behind shooting. I do 15 to 20 hours’ training each week.
“Wheelchair fencing is more intense than able-bodied because your chairs are in a fixed position so you cannot run away.”
Simon reached the last 16 at the Sheffield competition, losing to an eventual bronze medallist.
Fellow team member Craig McCann, from Bessacarr, Doncaster, only started fencing 18 months ago, having previously been a rower.
The 27-year-old has made it into the national team after recovering from a brain tumour which left him with nerve damage to the left side of his body and the sight in his left eye.
He said: “I managed to beat the world number five, Matteo Betti, from Italy, in one of the matches in the pool stage but didn’t win enough points overall to progress to the finals at this tournament - but I hope I can make the GB squad for the London Paralympics next year, then for the next games in Rio in 2016.”
Sazannah Rockett, also from Doncaster, who has previously competed at the Paralympics in Beijing, was also part of the disabled team.
John Timms, event director for the European Fencing Championships, said: “Overall, we have had 600 competitors from 39 nations, including 100 disabled fencers from 12 countries.
“The sport is not yet as popular in the UK but we have had crowds of up to 1,000 spectators at the contest and hopefully events like this, plus the Olympics and Paralympics next year will see the sport grow in popularity in the UK.”