Recent successes unshackle Singapore's fencers

Recent successes unshackle Singapore's fencers
From left, Cheryl Wong, Samson Lee, Ann Lee, David Chan and Cheryl Lim. Feature on the national fencing team, which emerged as top performing nation at the recent Commonwealth Fencing Championships.

When David Chan hung up his fencing breeches, jacket and mask in 2009, he was certain he was bidding farewell to a sport he had known - and trained relentlessly for - since he was 17.

After all, several of his peers were also retiring, and by then the men's sabre team had not had enough members to field a team for several tournaments. He was 25 and, as a fresh graduate, thought it was time to focus on his new job in Mindef.

Last month, however, Chan's persistence with his fencing career finally bore fruit, when he was part of the men's sabre team that won silver at the Commonwealth Fencing Championships.

Singapore was the top performing nation at the quadrennial event, winning four golds, four silvers and two bronzes. The team, which outdid hosts Scotland and England, had never even won a gold at the championships prior to this year's edition.

The result came on the back of epee fencer Lim Wei Wen's historic bronze medal at the Asian Games, the first time Singapore fencing achieved a podium finish at the Games.

When asked what has made the difference, many of the fencers credited Fencing Singapore's (FS) current coaching set-up as a pivotal factor.

Said Chan, who returned to the national fold in 2012 when Hungarian Andras Decsi was appointed as sabre coach: "(Andras) helped set the foundation for our current standard, and really brought us up one level in terms of understanding fencing."

Samson Lee, who was part of the men's epee team that struck gold in Scotland, also spoke highly of epee coach Fu Hao, another addition to FS' stable in 2012.

Said the 28-year-old, who achieved a personal breakthrough when he finished among the top eight in the individual event at the Asian Championships this year: "I contemplated quitting about one to two years ago. I wondered if I was wasting time because I just wasn't seeing any returns. But I'm glad I hung in there until I met coach Fu.

"Be it in terms of technique, tactics, or speed, he's really made a difference."

Ann Lee, who won an individual silver in the women's sabre event in Scotland, also shifted her focus to studies after the 2011 SEA Games. She returned in 2012.

Said the 23-year-old: "It was only after Andras came on board that we decided to give it another go, because we saw the possibility of progress. It was also then that he started developing some of the young ones.

"This is the first time since 2010 that I've felt we have a solid team, one that can go much further in the future."

The fencers also felt that the coaches have pulled the team together and made them believe.

Said epee fencer Cheryl Lim, who finished sixth at the Asian Games: "Coach Fu makes sure we know that we're not fencing for ourselves, but for Singapore. We're fighting as a team.

"Last time we felt we couldn't compare with the rest of Asia, that we're not on a par. But he brought us confidence and helped us think that what we want is actually reachable."

For Fu, a Liaoning native, his charges are merely reaping the rewards of their hard work. He explained that fencers were willing to put in the hours, even as they doubled their training from three to six hours, five times a week.

"You can't say all these results are sudden," the 41-year-old said. "I have high expectations of the team, but they're also receptive of my methods and that's important because you can't force things on your students.

"The targets that the fencers now set for themselves are definitely different. They've seen what they are capable of."

It is no wonder then that after the recent spate of good results, the national fencing team are gunning for glory when the SEA Games are in Singapore next June.

Said Chan: "It gives us a lot of confidence, (but) the SEA Games is actually not enough. I believe that with our team, we can go on to achieve something at the Asian level and world level eventually."

Added Decsi: "There's been great progression from when we first started. The fencers are committed and I hope that with this team, we will be able to deliver."

This article was first published on December 11, 2014.
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