'Step by step': PH fencers eye 2024 Paris Olympics

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 10 2021 04:06 PM

'Step by step': PH fencers eye 2024 Paris Olympics 1
Members of the Philippine fencing team (from left) CJ Concepcion, Nathaniel Perez, Noelito Jose Jr., coach Rolando Canlas, Samantha Catantan, and Nicole Cortey. File photo.

MANILA, Philippines -- After falling short in their quest to compete in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, Filipino fencers are targeting the Summer Games in Paris in 2024.

None of the Filipino fencers who competed in the Asia-Oceania qualifiers in Tashkent, Uzbekistan late last month qualified for the Tokyo Games, with Sam Catantan coming closest. The former University of the East star made it to the semifinals of women's foil, where she bowed to Yana Alborova of Uzbekistan, 15-10.

Catantan, now a star for Penn State in the US NCAA, settled for a bronze medal.

Rolando "Amat" Canlas, coach of the national fencing team, said that despite the setback, they gained plenty of experience and learned valuable lessons in the qualifiers.

"Marami akong nakuha na pwedeng gawin, at nabigyan ako ng hope na talagang pwede tayong pumasok sa Olympics," said Canlas.

Canlas believes that if the local fencers continue their progress, the breakthrough can come in 2024, in the Paris Olympics. No Filipino fencer has competed in the Summer Games since Walter Torres in the men's foil in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

"Ang vision ko muna, step by step eh," said Canlas.

"Hahanapin muna namin 'yung tamang tao, tamang bata na makakapasok sa Olympics. So itong Paris, ang goal muna namin is makapasok muna sa Olympics," he said. 

"'Pag nakuha na namin na makapasok sa Olympics, step by step na kami."

At the moment, Canlas admits that Philippine fencing has a long way to go. In the 2019 SEA Games, Filipino fencers came away with 11 medals -- two golds, two silvers, and seven bronzes. 

However, they believe that they can eventually get to the Olympic level. In this regard, Canlas is inspired by the country's weightlifting scene. He notes that thanks to the success of Rio Olympics silver medalist Hidilyn Diaz, there are now plenty of weightlifters who are following her footsteps.

"Lagi kaming nag-uusap niyan ni Hidilyn, tapos nagtatanong ako sa kanya kung paano ba 'yun nangyari. Ngayon, tingnan niyo ang weightlifting ngayon, ang ganda ng performance. Ang dami ng kasunod ni Hidilyn," he said.

"So yun 'yung gusto kong yapak na mangyari. Kasi nag-focus sila, nag-focus sa isa, 'yung naka-produce na sila, to follow na. The rest is history," he added. "Ganoong-ganoon din siguro ang pwede kong sundan, at ang inspirasyon ko 'yung ginawa ng weightlifting."

In Catantan, the Philippine Fencing Association (PFA) has a talent who has proven that she can compete at the international level, and who can inspire the next generation of fencers as well. Canlas' hope is that they can find competitors in other weapons -- sabre and epee -- to develop the way that Catantan has.

"Sabi ko sa mga coaches na maghanap tayo ng kasing tapang ni Sam sa epee. Maghanap tayo ng kasing tapang ni Sam sa sabre, na mas bata pa," he said.

"So i-visualize na natin, mag-vision na tayo from now to Paris," he added. "Kasi meron na tayo, may isa na tayo. Ipu-push na lang natin."

Their road to the 2024 Paris Games starts in November, when they compete in the 2021 Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam. There, they will try to improve upon their 11-medal haul from two years ago in Manila, with Catantan in search of the gold that has eluded her for two SEA Games now. 

From there, Canlas is optimistic that they can keep improving all the way to the Paris Olympics.

"First step namin is makapasok muna kami sa Olympics," he said. "So 'pag nagawa na namin 'yan, ang next namin is of course, mag-medal na tayo." 

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