Olympic sabre race goes down to the wire in Seoul

This weekend’s SK Telecom Grand Prix in Seoul provides the last chance for sabre fencers to qualify for the Olympic Games by world ranking.

With the standings already decided for the foil and epee, attention turns to the event in South Korea, where valuable ranking points will be up for grabs.

Many of the world’s top female sabreurs will go to Rio regardless of their performance – or even attendance – in Seoul by virtue of their countries’ qualification for the team event. This earns entry to the respective individual event for three fencers from each of eight nations.

They are: Russia, Ukraine, France, the United States, South Korea, Italy, Poland and Mexico. The fencers will be named later by their national federations.

In Seoul, the race is on for the remaining fencers to pick up one of the remaining zonal allocations – two for each of Asia, Europe and PanAm plus one for Africa.

Azza Besbes (TUN) has already secured the additional African place and will be joined by Chen Shen (CHN), who cannot be overtaken for the top Asian berth. Chika Aoki (JPN) currently occupies the second Asian spot but is under threat from her teammate Misaki Emura. A handful of other fencers from that zone could also qualify but would need their best result of the season to do so.

Hungarian Anna Marton is leading in Europe but Vassiliki Vougiouka (GRE) is hot on her heels. Azerbaijan’s Sabina Mikina is the only other European fencer in that race but would need to finish in the top two to have a chance of fencing at Rio 2016.

The PanAmerican places are also being strongly contested with Maria Belen Perex Maurice (ARG) and Alejandra Benitez Romero (VEN) defending slender leads over a glut of capable opponents.

On the men’s side, the stakes are higher because there is no team sabre event in Rio. That means that entry to Rio is decided on the Adjusted Official Ranking alone (save the separate zonal qualifiers in April).

The top 14 from the AOR qualify automatically for the Olympic Games – with a maximum of two fencers per country – and they will then be joined by the two highest ranked fencers from each zone.

The fencers who are uncatchable in the rankings, and have therefore secured a spot at the Games, are Russia’s world No. 1, Alexey Yakimenko; Tiberiu Dolniceanu (ROU), Aron Szilagyi (HUN), Max Hartung (GER), Aldo Montano (ITA), Daryl Homer (USA); and two Koreans in Bongil Gu and Junghwan Kim.

But with so many athletes still in contention, the race for a place at the men’s sabre event in Brazil is going down to the wire.

The remaining spots are occupied by Eli Dershwitz (USA), Matyas Szabo (GER), Mojtaba Abedini (IRI), Alixander Buikevich (BLR) and Vincent Anstett (FRA), but their status is far from confirmed with at least 20 other fencers in with a chance.

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