The Olympics' Missing Medals
But fencing was an original, and one of only four events to have been featured since the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896. And yet, in the 2012 Olympics, an inexplicable omission remains.
The fencing lord giveth and the fencing lord taketh away.
Last month, at the fencing world championships in Kiev, Ukraine, the U.S. men’s épée team won the gold medal, its first. Despite that accomplishment, the foursome won’t be able to take that momentum — and the group dynamic — to the Olympics this summer.
As a rule, the International Olympic Committee takes one team from men’s and women’s fencing out of the mix every four years, as a means of limiting the medals the sport can receive. And for the 2012 Games, men’s épée drew the short sword, as it were.
The fencing lord? Hardly. Try the International Olympic Committee. There are three weapons in fencing, foil, saber and épée. and each has significant differences. Yet in each quadrennial cycle, only two of the three weapons are included. Technically, this means there are ten medals for twelve events, covering both individual and team events for both genders in three weapons.
To accommodate this, a different weapon "draws the short straw" for each gender in each quadrennial cycle, so that one weapon is left out every three Olympics, but no weapon is omitted two Olympics in a row.
This peculiar situation arose initially because of gender parity, as men's fencing included all three weapons but women's fencing included only foil. When women's fencing was expanded to include all three weapons, it "ate" two of the medals that had been previously available to fencing.
This wouldn't seem to be all that much of a big deal. By expanding the weapons for women's fencing, the IOC need only add two additional medals and cover all three weapons for two genders. But inexplicably, this didn't happen. Instead, they maintained the same number of fencing medals as before the expansion, forcing two events out of the Olympics per cycle.
Did the medals cost too much? Not likely, given that medals are added for new sports with some regularity. If they can afford to buy medals for new sports, not to mention the plethora of variations of sports such as swimming and track, it doesn't seem that the price of gold is the problem.
For many new sports, aside from questions of whether they are sports or performances, issues arise from the need to build venues and infrastructure for their inclusion. This obviously isn't the problem, as fencing venues are already part of the Olympics, and same strips (or pistes) as used for each weapon.
So why, in an original Olympic sport that has grown to six events in recognition of gender parity has the International Olympic Committee decided not to offer medals to include all twelve events?
No one has, to my knowledge, provided a satisfactory, rational answer.