Two weeks ago, the trio of Kevin Chan, Joshua Lim and Tan Yuan Zi soaked in the glory and adulation when they won Singapore's first-ever SEA Games men's team fencing gold but, today, that magic triangle is no more.
Tan, a houseman at the Singapore General Hospital, is going for an indefinite break from the sport after taking nine months off work to focus on the biennial meet, leaving his comrades to welcome Justin Ong, a substitute during the competition, to step up.
Ong, 20, who is participating in his second Asian Fencing Championships (AFC), believes it will be a seamless transition even if their first assignment after the SEA Games is to face the cream of the continent in the competition which starts today at OCBC Arena Hall 1.
"I do not think our morale is affected much. Yuan Zi belongs to the previous generation and the team (for AFC) is closer in terms of age. We may be in a team event but how well we do ultimately depends on individual performance on that day," he said.
Ong will be competing with foilists Kevin, 17, Lim, 19, and substitute Jet Ng, 17.
The Singapore men's foil team, ranked 31st (senior category) in the International Fencing Federation (FIE), will be facing world-class rivals on Monday.
The teams from China, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong are rated fourth, sixth, eighth and 15th in the FIE respectively.
"We have proven that we can win at the regional level," said national foil coach Simon Senft.
"But we are playing on a totally different level when it comes to facing countries like China and Japan."
The German noted that in last year's AFC in Suwon, South Korea, no team in the top eight scored more than 15 points against powerhouses like China, Japan and South Korea.
In contrast, the Singapore men's foil team defeated the Philippines by a five-point margin in the SEA Games final, winning 45-40.
Said Senft: "While we have no problems winning the next SEA Games, we cannot expect miracles for the AFC. We are taking this step by step. I am confident that we can get into the top six for the men's foil team.
"For individuals, we aim to get into the top 16. Our men's team fencers are young and most of their opponents have 10-15 years more experience. The next step in our progress for this AFC is to beat Hong Kong before aiming higher to win against better countries like Korea and Japan."
And even before the battle commences today, most of the 28 participating countries had the opportunity to spar with each other as they trained together at Hall 6 of the OCBC Arena.
Said Francis Kwong, vice-president of Fencing Singapore: "We gave each country a time slot to come down but they all came in the morning at 9am (on Tuesday and yesterday) and started training. It was a good thing in the end as our team got the chance to train with Japan and Korea."
But the real learning opportunity will be during the competition, when the fencers vie for a spot on the podium.
Said Kevin, a 17-year-old Hwa Chong Institution student: "During training sessions, our opponents will definitely not perform at their peak. It was good exposure to the different styles out there but anything can happen on the competition day.
"Things will be different with the adrenaline rush and fighting spirit that comes with a competition."
Beyond the AFC, Lim, who is waiting to enter national service, is optimistic about fencing here.
"Hong Kong started out like us but through much exposure abroad, they have become world-class competitors," he said. "However, we have better facilities and resources like sports scientists, so I believe we can improve faster than them."
This article was first published on June 25, 2015.
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