As the European Wheelchair Fencing Championships get underway in Strasbourg, France from Saturday (7 June) a number of the continent’s top fencers have found top form.
Here are six of the athletes set to make a big impact on the European Championship stage until the conclusion of competition on Thursday (12 June).
Simone Briese-Baetke (Germany)
When Briese-Baetke narrowly missed gold at her home World Cup event in Malchow, Germany, back in January, she did not dwell on the disappointment. Instead, she came back more determined than ever.
Since that tournament Briese-Baetke has won a medal each of the four times she has taken to the piste, three of them gold. This imperious form makes her the one to beat in both the category B epee and foil events.
Beatrice “Bebe” Vio (Italy)
One of Briese-Baetke’s main challengers in the category B foil event is Italy’s young star Beatrice Vio. The seventeen year old rocketed up the rankings in her debut season last year, beating established competitors to take multiple titles.
Having focused on getting top marks in school instead of on the piste in early 2014, Vio returned to action last week to defend her title at the World Cup in Lonato, Italy.
Though short of match practice, Vio showed glimpses of her best fencing to win a bronze medal. And, having admitted she has been training “especially for the European Championships”, she is hoping for a strong performance.
Vio missed out on the podium at last year’s World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, and does not want to relive that experience: “At the World Championships I could not do what I wanted. I’m focused on doing better at the competition in Strasbourg.”
Marta Fidrych (Poland)
Having not won a major event in the women’s category Epee event since January 2013, Fidrych is due a title. And the signs point to the European Championships being her tournament.
Fidrych won silver at May’s World Cup event in Montreal, Canada, losing to Hong Kong’s Justine Charissa Ng in the final. She was then beaten by a single point by Ng in the semi finals of last week’s tournament in Lonato. However, Fidrych will not have to face her nemesis in Strasbourg, paving the way for a return to the top of the podium.
Dariusz Pender (Poland)
The form of Pender ahead of the European Championships has been so strong it has seen him move back to World No.1 in the men's category A epee standings.
Pender's victories in both the category A foil and epee events at the Grand Prix event in Montreal were also enough to see him nominated for the IPC's Athlete of the Month award for May.
The priority, however, is a European Championship title and few would bet against him adding to his tally of wins in Strasbourg.
Romain Noble (France)
If anyone can stop Dariusz Pender in Strasbourg it is Noble. Recently displaced by Pender at the top of the rankings, Noble seems determined to regain World No.1 status.
Boosted by a win at last week’s World Cup in Lonato, and with the backing of a French crowd in Strasbourg, Noble will be confident of taking a title.
When he performs the French squad usually does well. The team and their fans will be hoping he can inspire an excellent squad performance at their home tournament.
Piers Gilliver (Great Britain)
The British team had their best ever World Cup performance in Lonato last week, largely thanks to Gilliver.
The young Brit won silver in the men’s category A foil event and bronze with the epee. An exciting
talent, it's surely now only a matter of time before Gilliver takes his first title.
If the higher-ranked athletes don't perform at their best in Strasbourg, Gilliver is more than capable of taking advantage.