Marta Baeza: The Brazilian fencer preparing for Rio 2016 in Cornwall

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Brazil's finest fencer, via Cornwall

"I know that this is the best place to be right now," says Brazilian fencer Marta Baeza before another training session ahead of Rio 2016.

The 24-year-old sabre swordswoman has already qualified for this summer's Olympics, which is to be hosted by the city in which she grew up.

In preparation for the Games, however, Baeza, has decided to swap the flamboyance of her home town for the more tranquil setting of Truro - the Cornish capital famous for its cathedral and not a lot else.

But in the leafy surrounds of the city's prestigious public school sits a fencing club which could add to the city's list of famous things.

"A lot of people in Brazil have decided to move to Europe to train for their sports," says the diminutive Rio resident, who is about to compete at the Pan-American Fencing Championships in Panama City.

"In fencing Europe is the best continent to train in and Britain is one of the best.

"I moved to Truro because for the London Olympic Games there were three fencers who went to the Games based here and I thought it was the best place for me to train.

"Jon Salfield is my coach and he's one of the best coaches in the world."

Fencing swords explained
Sabre: The heaviest weapon in fencing, it was originally used by cavalry soldiers. The target is everything above the hips.
Epee: Lighter than the sabre, a weapon first used for duelling. Hits can be scored on any part of the body.
Foil: The lightest of the three weapons, it was originally used for training soldiers to fight in battle. Hits are only scored on the trunk of the body.

So what is it about Truro that seems to produce good sabre fencers?

The tradition was actually started by a man who many will have seen in films, but few will recognise.

Richard Bonehill was part of the cast in two of the original Star Wars films, portraying masked characters such as Nien Nunb, Stormtroopers and X-wing pilots while using his skills with swords to help with the lightsaber scenes in the films.

Bonehill died in 2015 having stepped down as Truro Fencing Club's head coach in 2007 after 12 years, and Jon Salfield has since taken up the mantle - moving the club to a new level in the process.

"There's nothing magic in the water in Truro that makes you good at sabre fencing," said Salfield.

"It's purely about the guys who train here having a structure to train within and then working very hard and putting the hours in.

"We have a high-performance programme which has 24 fencers training every day, and the youngest fencer on that is 10 years old.

"It's just hours and time that's put in, but the other thing is you have to have a structure that they can do that in, you have to have a venue, you have to have a good coaching team and support staff that can provide the right level of service.

"We've spent a long time and a lot of effort, money and hours bringing that together."

James Honeybone
James Honeybone was one of three Truro-based sabre fencers who competed for Great Britain at London 2012

South America is hardly a Mecca for Olympic fencing - Venezuela's Ruben Limardo won gold at the epee four years ago, but prior to that the only medal from the continent came when Argentina won a team foil bronze in 1928.

"The 2020 Olympics is the realistic objective to win," says Baeza. "It's very hard to get a medal in your first Olympic Games, so I think my objective is to get a medal in Tokyo and now perform to my best and get the experience.

"If I can get a medal then that's great, but realistically I will obviously carry on for four more years and hopefully win in Tokyo."

Despite Baeza's world ranking of 85, her coach is a bit more optimistic.

"If you look at sports like rowing or athletics, often the favourites will come out on top," said Salfield.

"But if you look at open-skill sports there are a lot more variables involved. In boxing, styles make fights. It's the same in fencing. Fencer A can beat Fencer B, Fencer B can beat Fencer C and Fencer C can beat Fencer A.

"A lot depends on the draw for her and the most important thing for her will be to go into the competition on the day feeling ready mentally and physically. If she does that the sky's the limit - there's no reason why she can't turn over some of the top people in the world and go a long way into the competition."

Whatever the result in Rio, the atmosphere in Bazea's home town come the Olympics will probably bit more raucous than the leafy surrounds in which she has prepared.

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