Local fencers have set their sights on the Youth Olympic Games – the elite sporting event for young people run every four years – which will be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in October this year. Hong Kong is sending four fencers to compete in the individual and mixed continental team events.
To qualify for the Youth Olympics, fencers had to have the best ranking in their continent at the World Junior and Cadet Fencing Championships 2018 held in Verona, Italy, in April. Fencers from Hong Kong competed against other Asian and Oceania fencers.
Gigi Ma Ho-chee, the reigning champion of the cadet women’s sabre at the Asian Junior and Cadet Fencing Championships in March this year, was among the fencers who qualified for the Youth Olympics. The 17-year-old from St Paul’s Co-educational College ranked second in the local cadet women’s sabre. She says she was confident she would qualify for the Youth Olympics.
“Before the Cadet World Championships in Verona, I won a few Asian Cadet Circuits and the Asian Cadet Championships, which boosted my confidence,” she said.
Gigi finished in eight place after a marginal defeat, 13-15, in the quarter-finals, to Mexican fencer Natalia Botello, the silver medallist in that event. But she is set on bringing home a medal from the Youth Olympics to atone for her defeat in Verona.
“I was so close to getting a medal in Verona, I want to salvage that lost medal in Buenos Aires.”
As a sabre fencer, Gigi recognises the importance of speed, but she also hopes to become a more all-round fencer, saying, “I often score with fast and sudden attacks to catch my opponent unawares, but I need to strengthen my defence as well.”
The other two qualified foil fencers say they did not expect to go far, but rather focused on doing their best. Paco Chan Pak-hei, 15, from La Salle College, ranks fourth in the Hong Kong cadet men’s foil. He said he thought he would not make it past the first round.
“I didn’t think about qualifying for the Youth Olympics, but the support [I got] from my coach and teammates was the reason I
could pull off an outstanding performance that day,” he said.
To his surprise, he finished eighth in Verona and qualified for the Games. Not only is he excited to take part in the major tournament, he is also driven to win. “Who goes to a competition without aiming for the gold?” Paco asked.
Another foilist, Christelle Joy Ko from Kellett School, says she did not put much thought into qualifying for the Games because she did not want to put too much pressure on herself at the cadet world championships.
The 16-year-old aimed to reach the quarter-finals, after a winning a tough match against Canadian fencer Jane Caulfield. In the final round, the two were tied at 3-3, with only two seconds left on the clock.
Christelle, whose technique is to focus on analysing her opponents to find their weakness, said she was surprisingly calm. “I was very determined and I was already very proud of my result. I remember my coach saying ‘just go for it’ and attack, and that’s exactly what I did,” Christelle recalled.
She eventually lost to May Tieu of the US in the quarter-finals, and finished sixth in the cadet women’s foil event. She sees the Games in Argentina as an opportunity to grow as a fencer and a chance to meet new friends. “Receiving a medal would be amazing, but the Youth Olympics is a huge learning opportunity, so hopefully I can learn from others and improve my fencing and create new friendships.”
The fourth member of the Hong Kong team is Kaylin Hsieh Sin-yan, 17, who was crowned world cadet champion in women’s epee in Verona.
In the Youth Olympic Games, fencers will participate in the mixed continental team event, where teams are formed based on their ranking in the individual event. In the last Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing in 2014, Hong Kong fencers Ryan Choi Chun-yin and Albert Chien Kei-hsu brought home gold from this event.
The four fencers look forward to competing in mixed team events at this year’s Games.
Christelle says, “During a team competition, you learn teamwork and also cooperation. You have to trust and support your teammate and build a relationship, this is something that you can’t experience when you fence individually.”