Now on his sixth year as head coach of the Philippine Fencing Team, Rolando Canlas Jr. said there is a sense of excitement on his part as preparations shift to high gear towards the 31st Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Vietnam.
The coming biennial meet – whether it’s played this year or moved to early next year depending on the COVID-19 situation in Hanoi – will be Canlas’ third straight at the helm in-charge on the overall program of the national team.
On the eve of the National Open Fencing Championships in Ormoc City, the qualifying tournament for the national team in the SEA Games, Canlas said he feels proud of the progress of Philippine fencing from the time he took over from then mentor Benny Garcia back in 2016.
“Our coach then was ‘maestro’ Benny, I was one of the assistant coaches,” said Canlas, who is also known by his nickname ‘Amat’ to family, friends, fellow coaches, fencers and sports officials.
“He was the one who recommended me to the Philippine Fencing Association, who has a new leadership with now Mayor Richard Gomez – also a former athlete like me that loves fencing,” added Canlas when contacted by Manila Bulletin Friday night, July 2.
Gomez was given a fresh mandate following his election for a second term as president of the PFA.
Canlas and Gomez were part of the successful program of Garcia, particularly when the country hosted the 2005 SEA Games as the fencing national team bagged a total of five gold medals, two silvers and six bronzes to rule the competition.
Gomez was part of the gold medal winning epee men’s team alongside Avelino Victorino Jr., Wilfredo Vizcayno and Armando Bernal, while Canlas powered the foil men’s team to the gold medal alongside Ramil Endriano, Emerson Segui and Mark Denver Atienza.
Since he took over in 2016, the level of competitiveness of the national team has been on the rise not only in the SEA Games but also in the continental region and in the world stage.
During the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the Philippines captured a gold medal courtesy of Fil-Am Brennan Wayne Louie in the foil men’s individual – an improvement after a ‘zero gold’ campaign in the previous edition of the biennial meet in Singapore.
Two years ago when the country hosted the SEA Games, the national team continued with its rise as it bagged two gold medals courtesy of Jylyn Nicanor in the sabre women’s individual, and the epee women’s team of Hanniel Abella, Mickyle Bustos, Anna Estimada and Harlene Raguin.
Aside from the regional event, the country has also made its presence felt in continental meets, like the 2019 Under-23 Asian Fencing Championship in Thailand when Samantha Catantan became the first Filipina to win the gold medal when she ruled the foil women’s individual event.
A student of the Canlas brothers Amat and Chris, Catantan has become the ‘face of Philippine fencing’ following her campaigns as a freshman at Penn State U – the first ‘homegrown’ Filipino to compete for Division 1 school in the US NCAA.
During the US Fencing Championship early this year, Catantan went undefeated during pool play with a 20-0 record and earned a bronze medal and an All-America honor in the tournament.
Although she missed out on earning a spot in the Tokyo Olympics, she bagged a bronze medal in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Uzbekistan, and won silver in the recent US Fencing organized meet North America Cup in Virginia.
Led by the 19-year-old Catantan, Canlas said that he is excited for the formation Team Philippines for the SEA Games, which will come via the National Open set July 3 to 11 in Ormoc City.
“We have members of the national team during the 2019 SEA Games here, several young fencers from different universities competing here in the National Open. We will definitely have the best of the best for 2021 SEA Games,” said the 39-year-old Canlas.
“That’s why I’m excited for this batch of fencers that we’ll have for the SEA Games because we know they are hungry to improve from our last campaign here, I know they are capable of improving their skills and compete against the top fencers in the region.”
Aside from being the overall head of the national team program, Canlas is also in charge of the foil team with Endriano, while Bernal and Vizcayno coaches the epee team, and Edward Daliva and Eric handle the sabre team.
More than 100 fencers from the three weapons – foil, sabre and epee – are participating in the National Open, which has been divided to three legs with each fencer earning points to determine the ranking for national team spots.
The first leg is July 3-4 for the first leg of individual men’s and women’s foil, epee and saber. The second leg is July 7-8, while the third leg is July 10-11. On the 11th, there will also be a selection for epee men’s and women’s teams.
Meanwhile, aside from the senior’s category in the Open, the tournament also has the 13-20 years old bracket for cadet national teams intended for the Asian and the world junior/cadet competitions.