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Fencing: McIntosh makes an early exit

Britain's interest in the Olympic fencing competition ended early yesterday morning. Too early for Fiona McIntosh, who was still yawning as she began her fight with Ivana Georgieva, of Bulgaria, in the foil event.

The 36-year-old Scot lost 15-4 in the first round which took place at 8.15am. She had no complaints. "I'm useless this early in the morning," she said afterwards. "It was always going to be a tough fight. The Bulgarians are better than their seedings show. Georgieva was tall and awkward. Also, she was left-handed. But it's an achievement just getting here."

McIntosh rallied slightly in mid-fight after soon falling behind. At 6-3 she seemed to be waking up, but the Bulgarian continued to take the initiative, leaving McIntosh few opportunities to counter-attack. She knew she needed to be more mobile, but said: "I found it difficult to go straight into a fight without a preliminary round."

A new system results in competitors of McIntosh's comparatively high standard having no opportunity to ease themselves in. There are no simple fights, which has had the effect here of seeing Britain's team of two quickly disappear.

Britain's most experienced fencer, McIntosh has been national champion four times and was eighth at the Barcelona Olympics, but she is unlikely to fight again for Britain in an Olympics. "I had a tremendous day in Barcelona, but here it was just one of those bad mornings."

Britain's only other fencer here, James Williams, a former soldier, was unlucky to be controversially knocked out of the sabre competition late on Sunday. It was generally acknowledged that he fought cleverly, but eventually succumbed 15-11 in the second round to the world No 4, Sergei Charikov of Russia.

Williams took a 3-1 lead and seemed to be capable of causing an upset. He took Charikov to 8-8, but at 14-11 he was the victim of a serious error by the referee when the decision on a parry-riposte went against him.

Williams had been impressive in the first round against the highly experienced American Peter Westbrook. His 15-8 victory suggested that he had a chance against Charikov, but several poor refereeing decisions left him at a disadvantage.

Philippe Omnes of France, the Olympic champion, and Cuba's Elvis Gregory had to be separated by police when they clashed off the duelling piste after the Cuban was ousted from the foil tournament yesterday.

Gregory threw down his weapon, kicked a wall and refused to shake hands after losing 15-14 to the Frenchman in a controversial third-round bout. As the two men walked from the arena, they began pushing each other and shouting and had to be pulled apart.

The women's foil title went to the Romanian Laura Badea, who beat the leading Italian Valentina Bazzali 15-10 (13-8 on time) in a final which could have gone either way. The defending champion, Italy's Giovanna Trillina, lost in spectacular fashion in extra time to Badea. Trillina was visibly shaken by this defeat but managed to take the bronze.