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Fencers primed to end medal drought

KUALA LUMPUR – Filipino fencers will try to snap a six-year gold-medal drought when they open their bid in the fencing competition of the 29th Southeast Asian Games Monday at the MITEC Hall A here.

Swinging into action are Donnie Navarro and Eric Brando II in the men’s individual sabre event and Maxine Esteban and Samantha Catantan in the women’s individual foil competition.

Former fencing secretary general Marilee Estampador, who will be the technical director of the SEA Games fencing competition, said “most of these fencers are young and promising but still lack international experience. We hope they can do well in this SEA Games.”

Among the Pinoy campaigners to watch is two-time SEA Games silver medalist Harlene Raguin, who narrowly missed bagging the gold in the women’s epee battle in the previous SEA Games in Singapore.

Comfortably ahead in the early stages, the 32-year-old veteran eventually folded to Vietnam Tran Thi Len, 7-11, in the finals.

“This could be my last SEA Games because I am not getting any younger,” said the tall and lean mother of two children before the team left for Kuala Lumpur.

The last Filipino fencer to capture a gold medal in the regional meet was retired national athlete Wally Mendoza, who ruled the men’s individual sabre contest in the Palembang SEA Games in 2011.

The Pinoy swordsmen brought home four silvers and two bronzes from the Singapore biennial meet after their sport was dropped from the Myanmar edition in 2013.

Meantime the Philippines takes the first major step to redemption when it battles Vietnam in the men’s volleyball competition Monday at the MITEC Hall 11.

Game time is at 5 p.m. with the Nationals on a mission to come up with a podium finish to avenge their forgettable sixth-place finish in the previous edition of the biennial meet in Singapore two years ago.

Head coach Sammy Acaylar said they are all pumped up and ready to go after spending the past few months training and competing against foreign teams.

The squad had a 15-day training in Suwon City in South Korea and participated in a pocket tournament against the Macau national team, giving it a preview of what to expect in this prestigious 11-nation tournament.

“We’ve been working hard for the past few months and it’s now time for us to apply everything that we learned,” said Acaylar, who was part of the coaching staff when the women’s national team clinched the gold medal in the 1993 SEA Games in Singapore.

But the road to glory will never be easy.

Vietnam, the silver medalist in the previous SEA Games, will surely be a tough nut to crack due to its power, quickness and athleticism.