With the three-gold-medal target at the 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games 31), the Vietnamese fencing team is actively preparing in all aspects, despite facing considerable difficulties.

Clear obstacles

Fencing was once considered the “gold mine” of Vietnamese sports in the regional event. The Vietnamese team used to win 8/12 fencing golds at the 2015 SEA Games edition, notably six men’s in the categories of foil, saber and epee. After these “glory days”, Vietnamese fencing could not maintain the desired performance, collecting only 3/6 and 4/12 golds at the 2017 and 2019 Games respectively.

Vietnamese female fencing athlete Le Minh Hang. Photo: Dep

In comparison with Singapore and Thailand – its chief rivals in Southeast Asia, Vietnamese fencing is obviously falling behind in preparation for the upcoming SEA Games. According to head coach Pham Anh Tuan, while fencers from other countries participate in 8-10 international tournaments in a year, Vietnamese swordsmen barely compete internationally.

“As per the original plan of the coaching staff, athletes would take part in international training courses in South Korea, Croatia, and France, each lasting seven to ten days. However, due to force majeure, this plan was not carried out. In the past two years, on account of the Covid-19 pandemic, the fencers have almost practiced only in the country. Besides, the national tournament system of Vietnamese fencing is rather underdeveloped. Even in the absence of the pandemic, there would only be two competitions each year,” Tuan said.

Besides, the lack training equipment is a headache for fencing coaches and athletes, which has been chronic Games after Games.

Fencers themselves have to buy or order new breeches and plastrons online, or wear the ones used years ago. They couldn’t even touch German-made swords, but instead had to practice with ones at prices ranging from VND300,000 to 400,000 (US$13-17). Such cheap swords only have a lifespan of two to three months.

The head coach added that almost team members were infected with the novel coronavirus, except two. “Since the beginning of March 2022, bubble training in a quarantine camp could not prevent the athlete from contracting Covid-19. When returning to practice, their physical fitness all decline with shortness of breath, and their mentality is especially affected.”

Day-to-day efforts to achieve the goals

Vietnamese fencing team target three gold medal at the 31st Southeast Asian Games. Photo: Thanh Son

At the 31st SEA Games, the Vietnamese fencing team will participate with 24 athletes. In order to win the three gold medals, the team has gathered since the beginning of January 2022 at the Hanoi National Sports Training Center and the Ho Chi Minh City National Sports Training Center.

The medal hopefuls are still national veterans like Vu Thanh An, along with the young swordsmen, including Nguyen Minh Quang (born in 1997), Vu Thi Hong (1999), Phung Thi Khanh Linh (2000), among others.

According to swordsman Vu Thanh An, despite having been unable to compete abroad so far due to the pandemic, the whole team still tries hard in training: “I don’t specialize in coaching, so I can only share techniques and experience with young athletes, and give them more guidance in case of incorrect movements. Personally, right now I’m in top form and I will do my best and strive for the highest results at SEA Games 31.”

Meanwhile, coach Pham Anh Tuan affirmed that Vietnamese fencing is still trying to overcome obstacles and “speed up” preparation for the golden goal at the SEA Games on their home field.

The glory days: The Vietnam team used to win 8/12 fencing golds at the SEA Games 28 in Singapore. Photo: Bui Luong

“To solve the lack of contests, the coaching staff has increased training for the fencers. The former swordsmen who have left the team are invited back as training opponents for young athletes. All other coaches are willing to put on protective gear and join the field. We are determined to pass on our experience, methods as well as tactics, thereby partially compensating for the shortfall,” added coach Pham Anh Tuan.

In particular, the team even arranges friendly matches between foil and epee fencers. Additionally, the swordsmen are required to focus on technical training to gradually improve their form and avoid unnecessary injuries, thus being in good shape for SEA Games 31.

At the 31st SEA Games, fencing competitions will be held at the My Dinh Indoor Athletics Arena (Hanoi) from May 13 to 18, with a total of 12 categories: men’s/women’s saber individual, men’s/women’s epee individual, men’s/women’s foil individual; men’s/women’s saber team, men’s/women’s epee team, and men’s/women’s foil team.