How to Qualify for the Fencing World Championships

 Foil fencer with United States team painted mask

Chances are the you noticed fencers wearing national team warm ups at various fencing competitions, but have you ever wondered how those fencers actually qualify to be on the national team?

This is a continuation of our series covering how to follow fencing. In this article, we will go over how a fencing season works at the US national level as well as how fencers are ranked nationally, how tournaments contribute to national rankings, and how long the fencing seasons go. At the end of this article, you should know everything you need to know to follow fencing standings and the qualification paths for the various National Teams.

Do be aware that the rules are all spelled out in the Athlete’s Handbook which is published every year by the USFA. If you are serious about qualifying for National or World Championships, you need to make sure you check this Handbook every year as the rules change. Additionally, sometimes the USFA makes changes in the middle of the season, and, while the USFA will post the changes that have been made on its website, it will not always send notifications to all affected fencers individually. It is your responsibility to know the rules.

If you plan to fence in college you will need to comply with all of the NCAA rules; best practice is to ask university compliance officers or the NCAA directly as to whether anything you are doing with respect to USFA qualification paths is a violation of its rules. To learn more about NCAA fencing, check out our guide to NCAA fencing.

In this article we are focusing on the National and World Championships for the Cadet, Junior and Senior categories. This article is written with the assumption that, if you’re interested in qualifying for a world championship event, you will be ranked highly enough to be able to compete at all national events. If you’re interested in how national and regional qualifications work, you should keep an eye out for our follow-up article in the coming weeks.

How do you get points?

Cadet, Junior and Senior National rankings are each determined using points earned from the NACs, World Cups and World Championships from each respective category. In the case of Cadet and Junior, points for competitions in the older categories also count (i.e. Cadet rankings include junior and senior results; Junior rankings include senior results).

The number of points you receive is determined by the USFA based on how many competitors attended as well as the strength of the competitive field.

What is the difference between rolling points and team points standings?

For categories where the National Team is determined by points, the USFA keeps a rolling and a team points list. The main difference is that the team points list determines who qualifies for national teams at the end of the fencing season.

Rolling points: These rank fencers on an ongoing basis. The national points a fencer gets at a tournament is saved until a full year later. Rolling points can qualify you to go to world cups - see world cup qualifications for details

Team points: These rank fencers for one season only and are reset at the beginning of every competitive season. The next season actually begins at World Championships as it is possible to get points there that count as both Team and Rolling points the next qualifying season.

These are the points that count for qualification to World Championships and the Olympics. These points are a combination of NACs and World Cup points; not all of a fencer’s points will count toward team qualification. Each weapon and each age group limit the total number of tournament results a fencer can use towards their national ranking. This way, a fencer does not have to go to every competition and doesn’t have to score big points at every competition attended. Highly ranked fencers like Mariel Zagunis do not usually go to NACs as their World Cup results are sufficient to keep them at the top of the points lists.

Note: there are also some world cups that are not designated - meaning that they do not give you points for team qualification. Most times, but not always, these will contain the word “satellite” in their title on the FIE website. This means that many of the top fencers will not compete at the events. If you’re looking for world cup experience, this is one of the best ways to get it before you get to the top level.

 US national fencing world team qualification basics

World Championships Qualifications

National Fencing Team Selection:

Team points are reset at the beginning of the season. Everyone starts at 0, except for those cadet, junior and senior national team members that earned points at the previous season’s world championships. Those points are included in the tally.

There are a couple of differences for world championship qualifications.

For Cadet World Championships (under 17), the top three ranked fencers on the Cadet team points standings (for each weapon) at the end of the season are selected for the team and will compete individually at the tournament. 

For Junior World Championships (under 20), the top four ranked fencers on the Junior team points standings (for each weapon) at the end of the season are selected for the team and will compete individually at the tournament. A an additional alternate fencer can (but is not required to) be selected for the team event based on the discretion of the national coach; the limits are spelled out in the Athlete Handbook.

It’s important that Cadet and Junior World Championships are hosted together, and it is common to have athletes qualified to compete in both Cadet and Junior events.

For Senior World Championships, the top four ranked fencers on the Senior team points standings (for each weapon) at the end of the season are selected for the team and will compete individually at the tournament. Again, the coach has discretion over the alternate for the team event as spelled out in the Athlete Handbook.

For the Olympic Games, the top three ranked fencers on the Senior team points standings (for each weapon) at the end of the season are selected for the team and will compete individually at the tournament (if the US qualifies a full team, which is not always the case). The fourth ranked fencer is also selected for the team competition.

Which points are counted towards national fencing team selection

The Team Points standings are used to determine team selection at the end of the season. When you look at a points list, you will notice that the results are categorized as either “Group I” results or “Group II” results. The points listed in “Group I” are a fencer’s results from designated national tournaments. The points listed in “Group II” are a fencer’s results from designated international tournaments. The national coach for each weapon decides annually which competitions will be eligible for for both Group I & II points. 

The overall quantity of Group I and Group II results that are counted in a fencer's overall point total (and thus determine their ranking) are also specific to each weapon and are also determined annually by each National Team Coach.

For example, this year (2017-2018 season) in Cadet Men's Sabre, 3 Group I results (National Events) and 4 Group II results (International Events) results are counted in the total, whereas in Cadet Women's Epée 4 Group I results (National Events) and only 2 Group II results (International Events) are counted.

For the Junior teams, between 3 to 4 Group I results and 3 to 4 Group II results are counted, depending on weapon.

For the Senior teams, between 2 to 3 Group I results and 4 to 5 Group II results are counted, depending on weapon.

Here's a quick example of the current (Dec 2018) points standings for Div1 Men's Sabre:

 Dec 2018 Men's Sabre team standings

How many points are earned at fencing competitions

The points awarded for NACs are set before the tournament by the USFA and are dependent on the age group designation. Cadet events provide fewer points than Junior events which are fewer than Division 1 events. For example, winning a Cadet NAC is worth 400 points whereas winning a Division 1 NAC is 1000 points. Sometimes the National Coach may determine that a particular NAC might be worth more or fewer points than the standard for each type. These will be posted in the Athlete’s Handbook and can change from year to year.

In contrast, the USFA determines points for a World Cup only after cataloguing who actually competed and what their results were. The number of points depends not just on the result achieved but the ‘strength factor,” which is a number from 0 to 2 that is calculated based on the skill level of the competitive field. This number is then multiplied by the standard number of points that are given for a the fencer’s placement. For example, a 9th place finish at a Grand Prix World Cup (which generally includes more top competitors, and almost always has a strength factor of 2) would be worth 1284 points whereas a regular world cup that has a strength factor of 1, would be worth half that, only 642 points.

How to qualify for fencing world cups

To get national points for world cups, they must be designated by the USFA as point-awarding tournaments. There are also undesignated tournaments which can attract good fencers from other countries (since they may be designated in countries other than the US) but they are not included as part of the National Team qualifying path. The designated world cups are posted on the USFA website, and you must register with the USFA to go to them.

A fencer must be a United States citizen with a United States passport. The registration fee to attend a World Cup is $30. If you are selected you must go unless you have a very good reason not to (serious illness or injury etc.). There are fines up to $1000 if a fencer does not go without such a reason. For Cadet and Junior World Cups the USFA adds a $250 squad fee for fencers that are selected to go which are collected to defray the costs of sending referees to international events.

The USFA chooses the “squad” for each tournament based on National Point Standings.

For a Cadet World Cup

Maximum 12 fencers are chosen from the Cadet National Points List in order of ranking.

For a Junior World Cup

Maximum 12 fencers are chosen from the top 24 Juniors. If not all twelve slots are filled then the remaining slots are filled from the top 12 cadets (there are further criteria in the Athlete Handbook for criteria beyond that, but it’s important to note that it is theoretically possible to compete at Junior World Cups even if not on the points list or near the top).

Early in the season, rolling points are used for selection. Later in the season, team points are used. The dates that these changes occur are listed in the handbook.

For a Senior World Cup

The USFA sends 12 fencers to Senior World Cups and 8 fencers to the Senior Grand Prix events. The top 12 (unless it’s a grand prix, in which case only 8 fencers are selected) of the top 24 fencers who signed up, in order of rolling points, will be selected to compete at a world cup. If there are not enough registered fencers (or some decline to attend), then the remaining fencers are chosen by ranking from the top 12 in the Junior Rankings and top 8 in the Cadet rankings respectively (there are further criteria in the Athlete Handbook for selection beyond that). 

At some point in the season the rankings switch to “team points.” This date changes and is not necessarily the same for every weapon. At that time, only points a fencer received in the current season count. For example, if a fencer got points at last year’s National Championships those count in the rolling points at the beginning of the season. But once the USFA switches to team points for qualification - that date will be posted in the Athlete’s Handbook - then that result no longer counts towards qualification for World Cups.

If you are a lower-ranked fencer trying to compete at one of these events, it can be a good idea for you to wait until near the registration deadline to see how many other fencers have registered that are ranked above you because the USFA does not refund your $30 if you are not selected.

Summary

This may seem complicated at first, but over time you we be able to read points lists like a pro. It’s incredibly important that you know the rules because it can affect which competitions you attend, and therefore, how you structure your training for the season. If you are still getting into the groove of fencing in competitions, keep an eye out in the coming weeks for our article covering Youth, Veteran, and Wheelchair events as well as the Regional, Division II and Division 1a events. Thanks for reading!

Summary

Image excerpted (and modified by BF) from short film "NZINGHA" by Anderson Wright.