by Shannon Scovel
To turn a gymnasium into a fencing arena takes electrical cables, tape and a few dedicated, frantic and organised volunteers.
To then turn a fencing arena into the host for one of the biggest fencing events in the calendar year requires lots of uniforms, hundreds of swords and a high level of competition.
All of those elements – the cables, tape, the volunteers, the swords, the uniforms, and the competitors – came together over the weekend as the University of Stirling Fencing Club hosted the annual Stirling Sword event on campus, welcoming welcomed over 190 athletes from five continents and 24 countries for two days of fencing competition.
For the eighth year in a row, the fencers gathered in the Gannochy Sports Hall for a weekend of athleticism, competition and camaraderie. The Stirling group, a small athletic club at the university made up of approximately a dozen members, once again ran the event, requiring volunteer efforts from committee members such as Andrew Smart, the club secretary.
“Despite being run by one of the smallest fencing clubs in BUCS, with a small team, it is one of the largest competitions in the UK, with a range of skills from people who have been fencing only a very short time to Commonwealth medallists and national team members,” Smart told Brig reporter Chris Bond in a previous interview.
“In addition, [Stirling Sword] is an international competition, with people entering from far beyond Scotland, the most noticeable of which is a contingent who arrive every year from Paris. We pride ourselves on having a relatively relaxed competition, where people don’t need to come purely to win but also to enjoy their weekend.”
The tournament also allows for varying levels of experience, skill and age, including everyone from the ages of 11 to 60, according to Smart. Specifically, on the Stirling team, the event included first-year fencers such as Liping Ma and world class athletes like Paul Verdon.
Ma, a recent graduate who competed in foil, said the competition gave her the opportunity to gain more experience in her sport, and she said she wasn’t too worried about her overall performance.
Her primary goal? Just to “have fun and enjoy it.”
Ma finished 46th in the foil competition and served as Stirling’s only representative in that event. The team entered three individuals in the epee competition, including Verdon, Daniel McAteer and Frederick Ulvin, and the athletes placed 7th, 21st and 24th respectively. In sabre, Stirling’s Scott Price earned a 28th place finish, while Morgane Chavaneau came in at 32nd.
Verdon’s seventh place finish in the epee event, Stirling’s highest finish, exceeded his expectations for the event, as he came in hoping for anything above tenth place. The Stirling Sword served as his first competition since a shoulder surgery took him out for several months last year. Like Ma, the Irish native said he wanted to keep his goals realistic for the event, and his simply hoped to make it through the competition without re-injuring himself. His top ten placing, however, reaffirmed Verdon’s ability and his potential to be a threat to opponents in his chosen sport.
As a team, Stirling team’s finished 11th and 18th in the epee competitions, and 13th in the sabre competition. Yet Stirling Sword was about more than the results. The sheer volume of competitions, volunteers, packed lunches provided and overall organisation of the event qualifies the Stirling Sword as a success for the club and the university, regardless of the team’s finish.