Reaping the fruits of a no-nonsense, long-term program, Philippine fencing is back on track. Thanks to the young faces and emerging stars, who are products of the Philippine Fencing Association.
PFA has been successful in producing new talents mainly because of its long-time partnership with University Athletics Association of the Philippines, which has adopted fencing as one of its regular sport disciplines.
Just recently, University of the East pride Samantha Kyle Catantan and Maxine Isabel Esteban of the Immaculate Conception Academy shone brightest for the Philippine side as they conspired solidly in pulling off a landmark gold medal finish in the 2018 Akari Asian U23 Fencing Championship at Ynares Sports Center in Pasig City.
The 16-year-old Catantan and 17-year-old Esteban teamed up with Justine Gail Tinio and Wilhelmina Lozada in finishing on top of the women’s team foil event of the Asian tourney organized by the Philippine Fencing Association and sponsored by Akari Lighting and Technology Corporation.
Catantan, the 2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games silver medalist, and international multi-medalist Esteban beat Yu Ching Kuan and Lee Areta in leading the Philippines to a 45-41 win over Hong Kong in the final.
The Philippines earlier defeated Southeast Asian heavyweight Thailand in the eliminations, 45-23, and upset Asian powerhouse Korea, 45-39, in the semifinals en route to the first-ever top podium finish in the Asian U23 since its inception in 2011.
“Kyle and Maxine are some of the products of our long long-term program. They started playing at a young age through our grassroots program. We have more young players on the rise in partnership with major collegiate leagues, which have adopted our sport and we are gearing up for more achievements in the years to come,” said Philippine Fencing Association secretary general Rene Gacuma.
The golden finish capped the milestone feat by the Philippines by bagging a pair of individual bronze medals courtesy of Nathaniel Perez and Catantan in the men’s and women’s foil event, respectively.
“Sobrang hirap bago namin nagawa ito. We will do more because our focus is the Olympics and not just the SEA Games next year. Foreign coaches and more foreign exposure will further boost our performance,” said national coach Rolando “Amat” Canlas.
Asian Games lessons
Catantan and Esteban went home without a medal from the recent 18th Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia. They didn’t fare badly though.
Catantan reached the round-of-32 after defeating Thailand’s Ploypailin Thongchampa (5-1), Lebanon’s Rita Abou Jaoude (5-2) and Macau’s Ho Ka U (5-1) in the Pool C preliminaries, before losing a tight contest to Hong Kong’s Liu Yan Wei, silver medalist in the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
Esteban fell to Japan’s Sera Azuma, 8-15, in the round-of-16 after beating Southeast Asian rivals Tyanne Fong of Malaysia and Mery Ananda of Indonesia. She also lost to China’s Huo Xingxin (4-5), Japan’s Sera and Singapore’s Amita Marie Nicolette Berthier.
She conquered Macau’s Ho Peng I (15-9) before losing to Azuma.
“Nag-mature talaga after the Asian Games. Nandoon kasi talaga ang mga tough players. Nag-mature din ‘yung mental strategy nila,” said Canlas who bared that they would hire three Korea coaches to further hone the team. “Ok din sana ang Russia pero iba ang style of training nila especially treatment sa players. Mas makaka-adapt ang Koreans sa atin kaya gusto rin nila sa Pilipinas.”
UAAP’s 3-time MVP
Perez, 22, gave the Philippines something to cheer about in the opening day of the competition by claiming a bronze medal, owing to his victories over Saleem Ghaith of Iraq and compatriot Shaw Nicollei Felipe to reach the medal round.
He bowed in the semifinals to Korea’s Hwang Booyeong, who eventually clinched the gold medal.
Perez capped his colorful stint with University of the East last year with a third straight Most Valuable Player trophy after powering his alma mater to a fifth straight fencing championship trophy with a 4-2-2 gold-silver-bronze haul.
“Sobrang saya dahil mahirap po talaga manalo sa Asian level dahil nandito lahat ng malalakas like Japan Korea and China,” said Perez, who was coming off a forgetful stint in the recent Asian Games in Jakarta.
Perez said he was invited by United States-based Sant Louis Fencers Academy to train and compete for the club in international competitions. “This (medal finish) will inspire me to aspire for more,” Perez added.
The weeklong tourney drew 15 countries that included Kazakhstan, Thailand, Japan, Kuwait, Chinese Taipei, Hongkong, Australia, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Korea, Malaysia, Iraq, Brunei, Mongolia and India, and host Philippines.
Powerhouse Korea again dominated with a haul of four gold, five silver, and seven bronze medals. Hong Kong followed with four gold, three silver medals, and bronze. Kazakhstan placed third with a medal tally of 3-1-3 tally. The Philippines’ 1 gold-2 silver finish was good for fourth place.
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