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World-class fencers call U of S home

By in Sports & Health
U of S student Shannon Comerford is always en guard as one of the best fencers in the country.
U of S student Shannon Comerford is always en guard as one of the best fencers in the country.

Thanks to her world-class fencing skills, Shannon Comerford has been making regular visits to Europe over the past two months.

Representing Team Canada in international competitions, Comerford most recently returned from Turin, Italy, where she was competing in a World Cup fencing event.

“It’s amazing,” Comerford said of her experiences fencing internationally. “I love the opportunities I have been given.”

World Cup fencing events run from the beginning of February to the end of May, with several different tournaments around the globe. Turin marked the fourth trip Comerford has made to Europe since Feb. 8, with her other international fencing bouts in the women’s senior foil category landing in Hungary, Russia and Germany.

A foil is the name of the weapon used in her matches; it looks like a thin steel sword, but the blade is quadrangular with dull edges and a blunted end. The blades are tapered from the base to the tip and are manufactured to bend — but not break or injure people — upon striking one’s opponent.

In a foil match, fencers score points by striking one another with the end of the blade, which has a button that signals when the foil has struck the opponent. Foil competitors can only score points by striking their opponent in the torso, neck, groin and back. This is unlike those who compete in sabre and épée, the two other common types of fencing, where the striking areas are different and can include arms and legs.

While fencing against the world’s best in Turin March 22-24, Comerford competed for Canada both in individual and team events. She was pleased with her team’s result, but critical of her personal accomplishments.

Comerford is looking to regain the fencing form that took her to 43rd in the world rankings in 2011.
Comerford is looking to regain the fencing form that took her to 43rd in the world rankings in 2011.

In the “individual event, I ended up being the top-ranked Canadian,” Comerford said of her 77th placing out of the 141 female competitors at the tournament. “It’s not a bad result, but I definitely want to do better.”

Comerford only recently returned to the sport after recovering from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. Comerford had similar results in the other three World Cup events she entered this year, consistently placing in the top 100 fencers at each competition. She hopes to move up the world-rankings ladder by improving her placings in the rest of the season, giving her more points.

“I want to try to break into the top 64 in the world again,” said Comerford, who spent the majority of the 2009-11 seasons in the prestigious group, and was ranked as high as 43rd in the world at one time.

She was all smiles about the performance put on by Canada in the team event, however. The three-woman group of Eleanor Harvey and Kelleigh Ryan, along with Comerford, placed eighth out of 16 teams.

“That eighth place is tied with our best-ever result from any women’s foil senior national team,” Comerford said proudly.

Comerford, who turns 25 this month, has been fencing for 17 years. In that time she has been a national champion in the under-17 cadet age group and the under-20 juniors. Now she competes in the senior age category, the category for fencers over the age of 20. As a senior she has placed second at nationals three times.

Comerford isn’t the only University of Saskatchewan student who has made Canada proud in the world of fencing.

Jean-Pierre Seguin, who has attended the U of S on and off since 2005, was at one point ranked as the best cadet épée fencer in the world. In 2002 Seguin won gold at the épée Cadet World Championship. Over a decade later, Seguin talks calmly about his accomplishment.

“I was pretty pumped,” Seguin said. “But it was short-lived.”

As he moved through the age categories, Seguin finished in the top 16 at the Junior World Championships and scored on-the-podium finishes at both Junior and Senior World Cup events. Yearning to make the next leap in athletics, Seguin competed at international Olympic trials for both the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympic Games, but narrowly missed the cut each time.

Following the 2008 Olympic trials, Seguin decided to focus more of his efforts on university. He will be graduating this spring with a degree in sociology and a double minor in political studies and economics. With intentions to study law next fall, Seguin hopes to move into more of a coaching role with Saskatchewan’s fencers despite winning Canada’s senior épée men’s national tournament last September.

“Now it will just be supporting the club and passing on advice,” Seguin said, content with his decision. “I can still compete really well, so I can be an extra body in the club and be a substantial opponent for them to get better.”

For more information on getting involved in fencing or joining the U of S fencing club visit: www.sites.google.com/a/saskfencing.org/sask-fencing/


Photo: Henry Comerford, Jay Scott Photography

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