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Transparent masks put new face on fencing

Posted: Tuesday August 3, 2004 11:13PM; Updated: Tuesday August 3, 2004 11:13PM
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LONDON, Aug 4 (Reuters) -- Fencing will comprise 10 events in Athens where the women's individual sabre makes its Olympic debut and transparent masks will be used for the first time.

The world champion in women's sabre is Romanian Dorina Mihai whose winnings in Cuba, boosted by 10,000 euros because she wore one of the new masks designed to improve the sport's appeal for fans, allowed her to install central heating in her family's Bucharest flat.

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Sada Jacobson, the first American women fencer to be ranked number one and one of two sisters on the sabre team, also has a good medal chance.

Another Romanian, Mihai Covaliu, is hot favourite for the men's sabre after winning the gold in Sydney and being ranked number one this year. Covaliu finished second behind Vladimir Likashenko of Ukraine at the 2003 world championships.

European teams comprise eight of the top 10 in the world but only five are going to Athens, Russia being the favourites to retain their Olympic title.

In the foil competition, Peter Joppich of Germany will start as men's favourite after winning the world title, with three Italians -- Simone Vanni, Andrea Cassara and Salvatore Sanzo -- likely to mount strong challenges. Germany, Italy and China are favoured in the team event after France won the 2000 gold.

The women's foil will revolve around the form of Italy's Valentina Vezalli, one of the sport's great performers. Second in 1996 and the winner in Sydney, Vezzali remains the fencer to beat and took the 2003 gold at the world championships.

Compatriot Giovanna Trillini has been in good enough form to improve on her bronze in Sydney while Vezzali will face a strong challenge from eastern Europe.

Women have an epee team event and France, led by Laura Flessel-Colovic, is probably favourite to win gold.

Flessel-Colovic won team and individual gold in Atlanta and individual bronze in Sydney, and is determined to make up for a disappointing fifth place at the 2003 worlds. South Korea's Hyun Hee, world champion in 2002, will miss the Games through injury while the 2003 champion was Natalia Conrad of Ukraine.

France, second in Sydney and third in 1996, are favourites with Russia for the men's epee team gold.

Frenchman Fabrice Jeannet is the world individual champion after winning silver in 2002 and bronze in 2001. Athens will be his first Olympics.

Copyright 2004 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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