Fencing: In shape but Wang Wenying lacks practice

An elated Wang Wenying after winning gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Fencing Championships. She would have preferred to compete in more overseas events but nevertheless is pleased with her fitness ahead of the Olympic zonal qualifier.
An elated Wang Wenying after winning gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Fencing Championships. She would have preferred to compete in more overseas events but nevertheless is pleased with her fitness ahead of the Olympic zonal qualifier. ST FILE PHOTO

Wang short of competition but coach expects her to be first local fencer to make Olympics

It promises to be the biggest test of her sporting career, but national fencer Wang Wenying cannot help but feel slightly unprepared for the upcoming examination that is the Olympic Games Asia and Oceania Zonal Qualifier.

The 35-year-old is worried by her lack of match practice ahead of the April 10-12 tournament in Wuxi, China - her final chance to earn a spot at the Rio Games in August.

Should Wang, Singapore's first individual SEA Games fencing gold medallist following her women's foil victory last year, secure a top-three finish in Wuxi, she will become the Republic's first fencer to qualify for the Summer Games.

However, it will be just her second high-level competition this year. She competed in nine International Fencing Federation meets last year, the last being a satellite event in Ankara, Turkey, on Nov 14.

While Wang's top-64 finish at last month's Grand Prix in Havana, Cuba was encouraging, she said that spending the previous four months without an elite tournament was not ideal preparation.

LIFE-CHANGING ACT

At my age, this will be the last chance to achieve my Olympic dream. I don't want to stress myself out too much but if I miss it, my whole life will feel different.

WANG WENYING, on her attempt to qualify for the Rio Games at the April 10-12 Asia and Oceania Zonal Qualifier.

Speaking to The Straits Times from her training base in Shanghai, she said: "I've done a lot of strength and conditioning work in the last few months and physically, I'm in better shape than I was before the SEA Games.

"But I would have preferred to compete in more overseas events as that, to me, is the best way to prepare for a major tournament."

She and national foil coach Simon Senft had originally targeted one overseas competition every month leading up to the zonal qualifier and a training stint in Italy late last year but those plans were shelved.

The decision was taken in consultation with various stakeholders, including Wang and her team, noted Fencing Singapore vice-president (high performance) Yau Wee Sian.

He said: "The new exco felt some recalibration was needed and we had a conversation with all parties. Wenying's result in Havana was good and shows things are heading in the right direction."

Besides Wang, national team- mates Clive Leu (men's sabre), Kevin Jerrold Chan (foil), Samson Lee (epee), Cheryl Lim (women's epee) and Ann Lee (sabre) are also slated to compete in Wuxi.

Despite the lack of tournament experience on the piste, Senft is confident his charge will claim the coveted Olympic place.

Of the 13 fencers entered for the April 11 event, only two (Japan's Shiho Nishioka at No. 49 and Hong Kong's Lin Po Heung at No. 54) are placed higher than Wang's world ranking (No. 56). After the trio, Uzbek Gulymira Ziyaeva is the next highest at No. 128.

Senft said: "On paper, Wenying has a high chance. Over the course of the season, she's fenced better than the Hong Kong girl as well.

"Her fitness has also improved and she is now able to fence at a high level of speed and strength for a sustained period."

Wang, who picked up the sport at 16, is also fuelled by a childhood desire: "At my age, this will be the last chance to achieve my Olympic dream. I don't want to stress myself out too much but if I miss it, my whole life will feel different."

Yau believes that should Wang succeed, things will also change immeasurably for the country.

He said: "Wenying's achievement will be the lighthouse for the next generation of fencers. It will give them the belief that they can become Olympians as well."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2016, with the headline 'IN SHAPE BUT SHE LACKS PRACTICE'. Print Edition | Subscribe