By WAYLON GALVEZ
A total of six Filipino fencers have made it to the national team that will aim for a spot in the Tokyo Games via the Olympic Qualifying Tournament set April 15 to 22 in Seoul, South Korea.
Amat Canlas, the national fencing coach, said that 30th Southeast Asian Games champion in women’s saber event Jylyn Nicanor heads the contingent that will fight for Olympic berths.
Also part of the national team are Chris Jester Concepcion in men’s saber, Hanniel Abella and Noelito Jose in women’s and men’s epee, Nathaniel Perez and Samanthe Catantan in men’s and women’s foil events.
Concepcion and Abella earned silver medals in in the SEA Games, while Jose settled for a bronze medal. The 18-year-old Catantan is the reigning Asian under-23 champion.
“This is the first time na magpapadala tayo ng six Filipino athletes in this tournament, which is a qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics,” said Canlas after training Tuesday at the Philsports Arena (formerly ULTRA) in Pasig City.
“Sa anim na athletes that will be competing, we’re hoping na sana kahit isa sa kanila lumusot for the Tokyo Olympics. After the SEA Games here sinabi ko na sa kanila na maghanda sila sa qualifier for the Olympics, kasi very tough ang competition doon.”
Canlas said that only the champion fencer from the six individual events will advance to the Tokyo Olympics this August.
The last Filipino fencer to qualify in the Olympics was Water Torres during the 1992 Barcelona Games in Spain.
Canlas said that they have lined up several international competitions for the six fencers, but due to the health issues brought by the coronavirus or Covid-19, almost all were called off.
The only tournament left is the Fencing Cadet and Junior World Championship scheduled April 3 to 11 in Salt Lake City. However, only Catantan is eligible to join the tournament.
“Supposed to be may mga preparation kami kaso na-cancel because of the coronavirus. Ang matutuloy lang ay si Samantha kasi siya lang ang junior sa team. The rest, tuloy lang ang training dito,” said Canlas.
“Very positive naman ang mga bata, kanya-kanyang trabaho na lang kasi walang foreign exposure. Hindi lang naman ang Philippines ang affected, pati ibang bansa.”
The good thing for the Philippine Fencing Team is the presence of Korean mentors in Seungjun Kim and Sangsun Park – a gold medal winner in the 2006 Asian Games – who are here to continue training the athletes.
“Prior to the SEA Games nandito na sila, and until now. So kahit na walang international competition, malaking bagay na natutulungan nila tayo, yung mga athletes natin,” Canlas said.