Mariel Zagunis of USA competes against Seira Nakayama of Japan (Hannah Johnston/Getty Images)

Unless you are descended from a French musketeer or are related to Mariel Zagunis, let’s be honest: You know nothing about fencing. Having covered the event twice in eight years, neither do I.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t bone up and do homework before this event to let people reading the blog know the truth: fencing rocks!

So here’s my women’s individual sabre cheat sheet as Zagunis prepares to take on China’s Min Zhu in the women’s individual sabre quarterfinals at the Excel arena in London. Dagmara Wozniak is also one of the last eight fencers left in the competition. She faces Russia’s Sofya Velikaya, the No. 2 seed in the tournament.

The United States' Dagmara Wozniak, left, competes with Tunisia's Azza Besbes. (Andrew Medichini/AP)

Herewith, then, 10 Questions You Want Ask About Fencing:

1. Why is America so good after having not won a gold since 1904 before Athens?

Because just when like Bela Karolyi and his wife moved here and started berating young gymnasts into gold medals, that’s what many Eastern European coaches with long traditions of fencing greatness are doing for Americans.

Ed Korfanty, Zagunis’ coach, is a three-time Olympian who fenced for Poland for nearly a decade.


2. Why Has America just started winning sabre competitions?

The sabre competition in Athens was the first for women in the Olympics.

3. What is a sabre?

The weapon is the modern version of the slashing cavalry sword. It is used as a thrusting and cutting weapon in competition, and the target area is from the bend of the hips to the top of the head. The uniform includes a lame’ (a metallic jacket), which fully covers the target area to register a valid touch on the scoring machine. Since the head is also a scoring opportunity, the mask also has a metallic covering. (I wrote about this in my 2004 article on Zagunis.)

4. What’s the difference between the sabre and the foil and the epee?

The sabre is the fastest of fencing’s three weapons. Unlike the foil and epee disciplines, sabre fencers can score with either the tip or the edge of the blade.

5. How did Zagunis get so good?

Korfanty helped her, but she also had two parents who rowed for the U.S. in Montreal at the 1976 Olympics. Zagunis took fencing up when she was 10 years old, after her brother got involved. H

6. Did Zagunis’ parents plan to conceive an Olympian?

No. They let her do all kinds of sports.

7. Why are you so into fencing?

I used to have a pirate sword set as a kid.

8. Greater athlete: Mariel Zagunis or Robert Griffin III?

It’s not close. Zagunis.

9. Has Mariel Zagunis ever told one of her opponents, “I will cut you, girl.”?

No. Not that I know of.

10. Why did you do a top 10 list for fencing?

Keep it interesting.