Fencing: Elitist stereotypes put to the sword: The Eden Cup was no paradise for Britain but the future looks brighter. Alix Ramsay reports

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The Independent Online
CLASS and cash counted at Crystal Palace on Saturday. A young Italian reinforced his position at the top of the world rankings for the men's foil at Under-20 level by winning the Eden Cup. The best Britain could manage was 20th place.

Lorenzo Taddei had the air of a champion from the start. He waltzed through his early rounds, faltered slightly before taking the final from Sven Hein, of Germany, but always looked as if he knew the tournament was his. Italy has a tradition of winning in fencing. As in Germany, Italian fencing has the backing of sponsors, television and droves of spectators. In Britain it is a different story.

The Amateur Fencing Association claims 4,000 members and runs its junior, youth and senior men's foil squads and development programmes on a meagre pounds 6,200 a year. Of that, 75 per cent goes to the youths and juniors leaving just pounds 1,500 for the seniors.

Not surprisingly they have had a thin time of it at international level. Britain's only claim to fame in any of the five fencing disciplines over the last decade came in Barcelona when Fiona McIntosh finished eighth in the Olympic finals.

But slowly the sport is growing in popularity and the new president of the AFA, James Chambers, is searching for more ways to sell fencing. 'Everyone wants the chance to be Errol Flynn,' Chambers said. 'Once they're hooked, it becomes obsessive.'

Chamber's personal goal is to get fencing into the inner-city schools and break away from the age-old image of the wealthy gentleman's pursuit. The cost of a beginners' kit of foil, mask, jacket and glove costs around the same as a decent tennis racket and lessons and training can be done in a space no bigger than a badminton court. And with a spate of fencing movies in the Hollywood pipeline, Chambers is hoping to cash in on an increase in interest.

As for role models, Britain will have to wait a while. The best hopes for the future were all in action on Saturday - one of the few occasions the world's leading young fencers are on show in this country. The 18-year-olds, Harry Lancaster and Khaled Beydoun, both reached the last 64 to score under-20 World Cup ranking points and Paul Walsh, 17, working his way up the rankings from 148 in the world produced the best home performance of the day to finish in 20th place. Despite their tender years they are the top three at senior level in the country.

They are all coached by Mark Nelson-Griffiths at Sussex House in London. For the last six years he has been grooming the trio for greatness, travelling with them to more than 300 competitions - largely at his own expense. Now they are internationally recognised as champions in waiting.

Nelson-Griffiths has brought the German coach, Helmut Coch, a man who has produced five world and one Olympic champion, to London to train his squad. 'The boys are now benefiting from that,' he said. 'I'm not interested in coming second, I'm not British in my attitude. I'd like to think that these three boys can all make a World Cup final and at least one of them can reach a World Championship final.'

Results, Sporting Digest, page 35

(Photograph omitted)