MANILA, Philippines -- Filipina fencer Sam Catantan is determined to cap an eventful 2021 with a better campaign in the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam this November.
The 19-year-old, a product of the University of the East (UE) high school program, made her debut for Pennsylvania State University earlier this year, helping the Nittany Lions finish second in the NCAA tournament last March. She won a bronze in the women's foil and earned All-America honors, and last week, Penn State named her Most Valuable Player of the team.
"Masaya po ako na kahit po sa loob po ng, parang two months lang po 'yung preparation ko po eh, kasi last week na po ng January na po ako nag-training sa Penn, tapos last week po ng March 'yung NCAA," said Catantan in an appearance on the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum on Tuesday.
"So, sobrang thankful po ako na in a short period of time po na nag-training ako dito, naging maganda naman po ang performance ko," she added.
In early April, Catantan competed in the Junior-Cadet World Championships in Cairo, Egypt, where she lost in the round-of-32 to eventual champion May Tieu of the United States. Later that month, Catantan agonizingly missed out on a spot in the Tokyo Olympics as she settled for a bronze medal in the Asia-Oceania qualifiers in Uzbekistan.
"Sobrang nanghihinayang po talaga ako na hindi po ako nakarating ng finals," Catantan admitted. "Expected na po namin na malakas po talaga, so magkakatalo na lang po talaga sa sino po 'yung may pinakamagandang laro, ganoon po. Siyempre po, nanghihinayang po ako, pero wala po, ganoon po talaga ang competition."
Catantan is now back in the US to focus on her studies in Penn State, but she will return to the Philippines to compete in the fencing federation's tryouts for spots in the Southeast Asian Games team. After falling short of her goal to make it to the Tokyo Olympics, Catantan is eyeing redemption in the upcoming SEA Games.
In 2019, the teenager had been unable to deliver a gold, settling for a bronze after bowing to Singapore's Amita Berthier in the semifinals. It marked the second consecutive SEA Games that Catantan lost to the Singaporean, after they battled for the gold in the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The 21-year-old Berthier, a standout from University of Notre Dame, won the Asia-Oceania qualifiers to seal a spot in the Olympics.
"Kagaya po ng sabi ni Coach Amat (Canlas) step by step po talaga. Siyempre po ngayon po 'yung goal ko po, makabawi po sa SEA Games," said Catantan, who also helped the Philippines to the bronze in the team foil.
"Kasi nakakuha na po ako ng silver and bronze, so sobrang gustong-gusto ko po talagang makakuha 'yung gold medal," she admitted.
The hope is that a golden performance in the SEA Games will be the springboard for Catantan in bigger competitions, from the Asian Games to the Asian Indoor and Martial Art Games, and eventually the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
"Lahat naman po ng athletes, gusto po talaga namin maging Olympian po," said the fencer.
"Itong Olympic qualifying po, sobrang naging motivation ko rin po talaga na kaya ko rin po talaga, na kaya po namin umabot hanggang Olympics. So sana po sa darating po na next Olympics po, makapasok po kami sa Olympics, and ayun po magtuloy-tuloy po," Catantan added.
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