Epee trio target 1st men's gold

Fencers counting on teamwork in final duel as Willie Khoo may retire The 36-sport countdown continues with fencing and sepak takraw

WITH this SEA Games looking likely to be the swan-song for the Singapore men's epee team, they have resolved to bow out as a trio with first-ever gold medals.

Singapore's male fencers have never stood on the podium's top step at the biennial sports meet and this is a blemish Willie Khoo, Samson Lee and Lim Wei Wen are keen to correct next month.

While their female counterparts have already won three team golds in past Games, the men's epee team are counting on their five years together as a unit as the force that will propel them to that elusive title.

Overall, the Singapore men's and women's teams are aiming to improve on their 2011 showing, the last time fencing was held at the SEA Games, when they won a silver (women's foil team) and two bronzes (men's foil and women's individual sabre).

Said Lee: "If anybody does not do well, we are confident that the next player will go out to help us catch up or hold on to the points. The team spirit is really strong."

Tactically, the years spent training and competing together have also helped them understand each other's style better and to strategise better.

Then there is the sense of urgency. This SEA Games may be the final time the trio can fence together for the national team, as Khoo - currently studying at Yale-NUS, revealed his intention to concentrate on his studies.

The 22-year-old said: "I am not sure if I will be able to juggle school and fencing. Since we will not be together as a team for long, I want to use this last event to pay homage to the many years of friendship I have had with them."

Lee added: "The time spent together has been very meaningful and we have been through a lot. We will definitely go all out."

Vietnam will provide the stiffest competition to Singapore with Nguyen Tien Nhat, who tied with Lim for an individual epee bronze in last year's Asian Games, expected to be a thorn in the Republic's side. But Lim is unfazed.

"We have been very supportive of one another and I am confident of my team. We are definitely aiming for gold," he said.

Confidence is also high in the women's sabre team.

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Team leader Ann Lee, 24, said: "This is my third SEA Games and compared to 2011, we are more prepared. We started building a new team after 2011 and I think it's pretty strong."

Despite nursing a hyper-extended right arm during an overseas training camp two weeks ago, she remains upbeat. The team declined to reveal the training location as it is a secret.

She added: "The training camp was very helpful and boosted the confidence of the girls who are now more used to fast-paced aggressive fencing.

"I have been working around this injury and other than this small mishap, we are ready.

"When you fence, the adrenaline takes over and you forget all about the pain."

Lau Ywen, the youngest fencer in the team at 15, will be making her Games debut in the individual and team sabre events.

Despite her youth, she reached the quarter-finals of the individual event at last July's Asian Championships in Suwon before losing to China's world No. 8 Chen Shen. She was the sport's youngest competitor at the Incheon Asiad and the only Singaporean in that event, losing in the last 16.

Ywen, who started fencing at age six, said: "It is really an honour and privilege to represent Singapore at such a young age.

"My parents have been especially supportive, helping me with my schoolwork and accompanying me on overseas trips whenever they can."

chongcjy@sph.com.sg