PH fencers try to end long Olympic drought

Published April 22, 2021, 6:46 PM

by Waylon Galvez

The members of the national fencing team composed of (from left) Noelito Jose, Hanniel Abella, Nathaniel Perez, head coach Amat Canlas, Jylyn Nicanor, CJ Concepcion and assistant coach Arman Bernal prior to their departure for Tashkent, Uzbekistan. (Photo from Noelito Jose Facebook account)

The six Filipino fencers aiming for Tokyo Olympics spots have expressed mixed emotions as they compete in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) this weekend in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

From being excited and honored, to being a little worried because of the threat of COVID-19, the fencers are thrilled to represent the country but cautious of the danger that lingers on their journey with the presence of the deadly virus.

Overall, the delegation is confident, knowing that the Filipinos have done everything and are coming in well-prepared for this tough OQT for Asia and Oceania.

“Siyempre excited ako na makapag-compete ulit kasi ang tagal na rin na walang competition dahil sa pandemic (Of course I’m excited that I’ll be competing again because it’s been a while since my last competition due to the pandemic),” said Noelito Jose, now in his second OQT after barging to the round-of-32 on a similar event for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“Parang hindi naman ako nape-pressure masyado, kasi alam ko naman sa sarili ko na nag-training ako ng mabuti at pinaghandaan ko talaga ito since last year bago pa mag-pandemic (I think there is no pressure, because I know to myself that I trained hard and prepared well for this even before the pandemic).”

Jose is seeing action in the men’s epee category, the same weapon in women’s division for Hanniel Abella. Nathaniel Perez and Sam Catantan are the country’s representatives in foil, while CJ Concepcion and Jylyn Nicanor will see action in sabre.

The men’s epee and sabre, and women’s foil action is scheduled Sunday, April 25, while the women’s epee and sabre, and men’s foil will be played the following day, April 26.

Only the best fencer for each weapon and division will clinch the remaining spots in the Tokyo Olympics since other slots have been taken via world ranking and OQTs in other continents.

For almost three months, Jose, Concepcion, Perez, Nicanor and Abella trained in a bubble setup in Ormoc City courtesy of its mayor and Philippine Fencing Association (PFA) president Richard Gomez.

“We worked hard for this. Kahit anong maging result, kahit sino ang makapasok samin magiging masaya kami para sa Pilipinas (Whatever the result and whoever makes it we’ll be happy for the Philippines),” he said.

Nicanor, who won a gold medal during the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games here in 2019, shares the same sentiment, adding that they will give their best in the OQT.

“Hopefully positive outcome. If all of us can qualify, that’s going to be very good. Although it’s the same if one, two or six, we’ll be proud of Philippine fencing,” said Nicanor.

While the focus is on earning a spot in the Tokyo Olympics, the national team members cannot help but worry for their health considering the long flight from Manila to Istanbul in Turkey where they will have a 14-hour layover before a connecting flight to Uzbekistan.

“Hindi maiwasang mag-worry kasi 12-hour flight going to Istanbul, then layover, before going to Tashkent. Nakakatakot kasi panigurado puno ang eroplano namin (Can’t help but worry since it’s a 12-hour flight going to Istanbul, then layover, before going to Tashkent. It’s a bit scary because for sure the plane’s packed).”

Abella, who bagged a gold medal in the women’s epee and silver medal in individual in the SEA Games, said that they have talked about the protocols prior to their departure.

However, once the action starts, she said that their focus is on the competition, which she said is an exciting time as an athlete.

“It’s a dream come true. Since I was nine I have had a vision, and this is one of my goals. We’ll do everything to get to the Tokyo Olympics, basta lalaban ang Pilipinas (the Philippine will surely fight),” said Abella.

All six will try to end a long drought, and that is for a Filipino fencer to advance in the Tokyo Olympics, or since Walter Torres competed in the men’s foil individual event during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Aside from the six fencers, heading the national team contingent is head coach Rolando “Amat” Canlas Jr. – a former two-time SEA Games gold medalist – and assistant coach Arman Bernal.