Five of the six Filipino fencers aiming for Tokyo Olympic spots are set to fly Wednesday night for Uzbekistan to compete in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) for Asia and Oceania on April 24-26 in Tashkent.
Led by 2019 Southeast Asian Games gold medallists Jylyn Nicanor and Hanniel Abella, the five fencers had a rigorous training camp for almost three months under a bubble-type setup in Ormoc City.
Samantha Catantan, who had an unforgettable campaign in the US NCAA Fencing Championship as a freshman at Penn State University and recently competed in the Junior/Cadet World Championship in Egypt, will also join the national team in the OQT.
Fencing national team head coach Amat Canlas said all six fencers have a legitimate chance to earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympics, considering the effort they all gave to regain their form.
“They really gave everything to get back to that competitive level after not having proper physical training last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Canlas said when contacted by Manila Bulletin.
“I know they’ll give it their best, everything they got in the OQT. They will fight for flag and country. I always remind our fencers to stay focused, stick to our strategy. We are hoping and praying for a good result,” added Canlas, who will be with assistant coach Arman Bernal in Uzbekistan.
The country’s representatives in the men’s and women’s foil category are Nathaniel Perez and Catantan, in sabre are CJ Concepcion and Nicanor, while Noelito Jose and Abella will see action in epee.
Abella won gold medal with the women’s epee team in the 30th SEA Games, and took home the silver medal in the individual category, while Nicanor bagged gold in the women’s sabre individual event.
To their credit, Concepcion won silver medal in men’s individual saber, while Catantan, Jose and Perez earned bronze medal in their respective SEAG events – women’s individual foil, men’s individual epee and men’s individual foil.
The OQT will officially start Saturday, April 24, with weapon control, as well as managers meeting. The men’s epee and sabre, and women’s foil is set Sunday, April 25, while the women’s epee and sabre, and men’s foil will be played on Monday, April 26.
Only the best fencer for each weapon in men’s and women’s will earn the remaining spots in the Tokyo Olympics since other slots have been taken via world ranking and OQTs in other continents.
The six fencers will try to end a long drought and have a Filipino athlete in the Summer Games fencing competition. Walter Torres was the last Filipino fencer to see action in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
The national team will have a stopover in Istanbul, Turkey where they will meet Catantan, who is coming from the US. From there, the national team delegation will take a connecting flight to Tashkent.
“Of course, aside from the OQT itself, during our team meeting I reminded the practice of minimum health protocols – always. We know that the virus, the threat is out there, so we have to always be cautious,” said Canlas.
“We don’t have a vaccine yet, we all know that there is a process, a procedure being followed as per our government instructions. All we can do going to Uzbekistan, and when we come back home, is to protect ourselves.”