DEAF AUSTRALIAN FENCER TO PARTICIPATE IN OLYMPICS
by Stan Griffin
Only a handful of deaf athletes have taken part in the Olympic Games. This year Frank Bartolillo will represent Australia in the fencing competition at the 28TH OLYMPIAD in Athens, Greece, August 13-29. His country has never won a fencing medal–their best previous finish was sixth in 1976. Bartolillo and his fellow Aussies (Evelyn Halls and Seamus Robinson) will try to correct that.
Fencing is basically swordplay with two men (or women) dueling/fighting. What comes to mind? Knights in armor with broadswords clanging? Swashbucklers like Errol Flynn crossing blades with the bad guy, dodging and jumping with acrobatic ease? Today’s version is a long way from either of those scenes. Now it is " ... an art and a sport," done with weapons like the foil, the epee (ay-PAY or EH-pay), and the saber.
Frank was born on December 22, 1981, profoundly deaf, in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. He attended Farrar School for the Deaf and was part of the Individual Scholarship Program for Athletes with a Disability at the New South Wales Institute of Sport (NSWIS). He also has ties to University of Technology Sydney.
Bartolillo works part-time at Wests Ashfield League Club where he combines training and studying to be a personal trainer. He already has Personal Training Certificates 3 and 4.
He can read lips and can also sign. He thinks his deafness is an advantage to him because . " ... there’s no distractions (like crowd noise) ... I can concentrate more than my opponents ..."
Bartolillo started fencing at age 12 when it was introduced at the Farrar School. From the age of 16, he " ... dominated fencing in Australia at a senior level." He has taken part in a number of international championships, but this will be his first Olympics. He says, "I’m very excited ... but a bit nervous of the competition.
Bartolillo’s personal coach is Alwyn Wardle; they’ve been together for the past eight years. Beverly Chan is his Translator/Manager and has been for almost ten years. It was her son Tristan who introduced Frank to fencing.
Bartolillo spent several weeks in China at training camps with Wardle and Chan earlier this year. He qualified for the Olympics by finishing in the Top 16 at the 2003 World Championships in Havana, Cuba. His specialty is the foil.
He has a "support system" with his family cheering him on. It consists of his father, Frank Sr.; mother Angela; and two brothers–Joey and Dominic. Dominic will be in Athens to watch Frank in person.
He says, "I want to win the first bout, and I don’t want to look beyond that ..."
On the subject of his deafness, Bartolillo said: "I’m proud of being
deaf ... Deaf people can do everything ..."
FENCING IN A NUTSHELL
Fencing has been an Olympic sport since the very first Modern Games in 1896 (held in Athens, Greece). It’s one of only four contested at every Olympics since then. Of all sports, it is considered " ... one of the most creative and most intellectually stimulating, pure athletic pursuit ..." Fencing is a contest where age is expected to improve a player’s performance.
Two people face off and try to touch the other with their weapons. The idea is to touch the other person before he touches you. It’s a very fast game that goes forward and backward; you can’t fence in circles.
The "playing field" is a long, narrow mat (piste) which is 46 feet long and 6 feet 7 inches wide. It is marked with a series of lines. Two are "rear limit" lines marking stopping points; the athletes are forbidden to retreat across them. Action is so fast it was once difficult for an official to see the successful touches. An electronic scoring system is now used. Colored lights flash: red and green when a valid "touch" is made; white when the blow lands outside the target area.
Uniforms include masks with a metal grill to prevent head and facial injuries. A white jacket (the traditional color) has no buckles or straps because they could snag on a sword. Under the jacket is a sturdy vest called a "plastron" to protect the fencer’s chest. On the hand which grips the sword is a padded glove.
Opponents stand sideways to present a smaller target. Swords have blunted tips (rubber buttons), but they can still cause serious injuries. In 1982 a reigning Olympic champion died after a sword went through his mask.
Fencing has three "disciplines" each with a different blade.
(1) The FOIL has a flexible rectangular blade. Hits from its POINT ONLY must be made on the trunk (torso) between the collar bone and the hip. It weighs 14 ounces and is 35 inches long.
(2) The EPEE has a rigid triangular blade, and touches with its POINT ONLY on any part of the body (even head and arms) count as hits. It is heavier (1 3/4 pounds) than both the foil and the saber; but its length matches the foil’s. The hand guard is larger that the foil’s.
(3) The SABER has a flexible triangular (V-shape) blade with a cutting edge. Scoring can be accomplished by both slashing and thrusting. Both sides of the blade may be used to make touches anywhere on the body above the waist (even head and arms). Its weight and length are the same as the foil. A curved hand guard protects the fencer’s knuckles.
A sample of fencing vocabulary:
LUNGE: an attack in which the sword is thrust forward
PARRY: defensive stroke to deflect the attacker’s sword
RIPOSTE: an attack that follows a defensive move
TOUCHE’: shouted when one athlete scores a hit
"EN-GARDE": called by the umpire to begin a match; competitors raise their weapons and salute each other by raising the hand guards of their swords to their chins and swiftly snapping them down.
"ALLEZ": umpire’s signal for action to begin