Sunday, February 13, 2011

An Electrifying Match-up

I wasn't sure what to expect when I learned we had tickets to the Women's Saber (fencing) World Championships. My husband and son are fencers, so we decided to go as a family. Ellie was quite reluctant; I wondered how much I'd understand.

What a night! When we arrived there was a lively band playing, with a 40-something male lead who could rival Michel Sardou. (Just stop reading now, Bernard... It'll be better for you.) We'd all been given inflatable plastic whacking sticks and glow bands along with programs on our seats. We blew them up and began tapping to the beat. The crowds sang enthusiastically in the stands, which soon filled to capacity. Moments after I'd reflected on how I didn't know many of these particular songs (were they from a certain region?) they offered me a bit of a surreal moment: "If it hadn't been for Cotton-Eyed Joe..." ♪♫♫ I joined in the singing. This was not to be a somber event.

Then the competitors arrived... by rappelling from the ceiling.

They included three Russians, a Hungarian, an Italian, a Pole, a French woman (from Orléans) and the American Olympic champion from Oregon. I mentioned to Bernard how interesting it'd be if it ended up with the latter two in the final.

Well, guess what...

I asked Ellie who she was rooting for. "The French girl. I'm French." Swept up in the moment, with the crowds wildly cheering on "Cecelia" at her previous two matches, the home field advantage had certainly struck my daughter. Enough to make her forget half her heritage. I yelled the same question to Alex, and he said, "The U.S." Good answer, boy. Good answer.

The moment arrived. Silence with each successful touch by the American. Cecelia was already losing badly, thanks in part, we deduced, to a tough fall in her second match when a mat slipped from underneath her. Then there were gasps and dead silence in the crowd when Cecelia went down with a hand injury. A doctor was called in urgently. She was wincing and wringing her hand. Continued silence from five thousand people...

...and then wild eruptions when she got back up and bravely finished the match, falling to the American, Mariel Zagunis, 15-4.

I couldn't help but cheer for them both. A win from either would have been fine by me. But I must admit -- it felt great to be standing among thousands once again while hearing, "The Star Spangled Banner." Even if I was one of the few spectators singing.

And at the end, after the plaques and chocolate sabers had been presented, and when all the confetti strips had fallen, we gathered with a few dozen other loyal fans and got our programs autographed...

...from both winners...

Mariel Zagunis (left) and Cecelia Berder (at left in the photo on right)

Ellie and I both admitted the evening far exceeded our expectations. We'll be ready to go next year when the event returns to Orléans for its 14th year!

tags: Coupe du Monde Sabre Dames Orléans février 2011


  1. My kids were on the front page of the Orléans newspaper today! They'll be psyched, even though you can barely see them... They were waiting for autographs from Cécilia and Mariel...


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