Iraq, China and Bebe Vio, highlights of the Wheelchair fencing World Championships

Rollercoaster of emotions during the 2023 Wheelchair Fencing World Championships in Termi, Italy, which ran from 3-8 October 12 Oct 2023
Iraq brought the surprise of the World Championships against China and won the gold.
Iraq brought the surprise of the World Championships against China and won the gold.
ⒸWorld Abilitysport
By Wheelchair Fencing and IPC

The Iraqi team of Ammar Ali, Zainalabdeen Al-Madhkhoori and Hayder Al-Ogaili delivered the upset of the Terni 2023 Wheelchair Fencing World Championships on the last day of the event stunning Paralympic silver medallists China to take gold in the men’s team epee.

The trio fought incredibly hard and kept their heads during the final against a Chinese team that featured a high calibre of fencers – the bronze medallist from the individual category A, Gang Sun, and Tokyo 2020 podium finisher Jianquan Tian from the category B.

But Iraq cast their opponent’s achievements aside on Sunday evening. They were never more than five points behind their opponents and even when it seemed that China were getting away from them, they pulled it back.

After the match, Ali could not believe what had just happened: “We came here to fight. The Chinese are a great team but I told my friend and my coach but we all do our best,” he said. “We fight, we must fight. We must do something. And finally it’s the gold medal. We are the first team to defeat them!

“Now our ranking is No1 in the world. I don’t know what to say. I think our country is very proud of us.”

Still a powerhouse

Nevertheless, during the whole event China once again showed their dominance in wheelchair fencing,  winning an impressive 10 golds overall, two of them in team categories.

The double win included victory against hosts Italy in the men’s sabre, much to the disappointment of the fans who had gathered to enjoy an early evening of action at the PalaTerni.

But China and Italy put on a great show for the crowds nonetheless. Edoardo Giordan in particular gave them a lot to cheer for as he bought Italy back from 20-2 down to place them back in contention, scoring a stunning 21 points against Yanke Feng.

However in the following rounds, Yang Cheng, Feng and Li Hao managed to pull away once again and Matteo Dei Rossi and Gianmarco Paolucci, alongside Giordan, could not find another way back. China’s performance stands them in good stead for the own home major international competition; the Asia Para Games in Hangzhou, China, which get underway on 23 October.

Paralympic champions China also showed that they still have the magic touch in the women’s team epee, dispatching Thailand 45-43 to secure the gold.

Xufeng Zou, the new world champion from the women’s category A, won all her bouts as Yuandong Chen and Kang Su – also medallists from the individual competition, performed just as well.

In addition, the Chinese women managed a victory in the women’s team foil.

Even facing Italy with a huge crowd of spectators behind them, Haiyan Gu, Rong Xiao and Xufeng Zou kept their cool.

“We are happy and delighted to win the world championships. Of course this is a team event and the four of us played very well and this is a result of the effort of all my teammates,” Gu said after the match.


The local superstar


Nevertheless, there was no more excitement in the packed house than when Vio-Grandis delivered the hundreds of adoring fans the victory they had turned out for in 7 October, grabbing her fourth consecutive world title in the women’s foil category B.

The 26-year-old Paralympic champion battled in the final against China’s Xiao Rong. The clash was a rematch of the final from the last World Championships in 2019, but that is where the similarities ended.

Four years ago Vio-Grandis had eased past Rong but this time struggled to put the usual clear air between her and her rival for most of the match.

There was little to separate the pair for most of the match as Rong fought well to hold on to the double Paralympic champion.

But Vio-Grandis pulled on her immense strength and experience – the same power that has bought her back from two years away with injury – to just edge Rong into second. The final score was 15-8 and the Chinese fencer had to settle for silver this time around.

“[It feels] amazing. I have lost my voice and I’m just super happy and so proud about the team I had because all the things that we did are down to them, ” Vio said. “Because for my body it’s very, very tough to have this long distance between me and her. I don’t how, but it was like she was in another city.

“The crowd it was amazing. All my friends were there, all the family were there and I really feel that all the people in the crowd were there with me in that moment. I was able to recognise all the voices of all the people I love.”

The 2023 Wheelchair Fencing World Championships ran from 3-8 October and featured men’s and women’s epee, foil and sabre category A, B and C individual and team events.