By Sakura Murakami
TOKYO (Reuters) – Olympic fencing has long been dominated by Europe but the tide may turn at the Tokyo Olympics with South Korea presenting a line-up of strong players who could put Asia on the map.
Although South Korea will miss out on the team foil events, it will compete in all 10 other competitions at the Olympics.
And with some strong players who have beaten reigning Olympic champions, they may be well on their way to their own gold medals.
Oh Sang-uk beat Olympic gold medallist Szilagyi Aron to win gold at the Budapest World Cup in March in the men’s sabre individual event, and currently sits atop the world’s rankings.
Choi In-jeong became the champion of the women’s epee at the Kazan Epee World Cup in March, beating French fencer Aliya Luty. The women’s epee team also won a silver medal at the competition after losing only to Poland and winning against Italy.
With two gold, one silver and three bronze medals, the 2012 London Olympics proved to be the turning point for South Korea’s fencing record. Only Italy beat South Korea that year in the fencing gold medal and total medal tallies.
That success carried over to the 2016 Rio Olympics, where Park Sang-young mounted one of the great Olympic comebacks to win the men’s epee individual gold, winning a gold medal by coming from 14-10 down and taking five consecutive points. South Korea also won bronze medal as well that year.
“We feel the weight of expectations, but since the 2012 London Olympics, we’ve grown into a fencing powerhouse,” Yonhap news agency quoted Kim Jung-hwan, a 37-year-old veteran and gold medallist of 2012 as part of the men’s sabre team, as saying in April.
But like many, the team’s training regimen has been interrupted by the pandemic.
Oh tested positive for COVID-19 after winning gold at the Budapest World Cup, and had to recuperate at a hospital for a month before being released in April.
Park said he was “disappointed” about the delay of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, given that he had to wait another year for the event when he was feeling that he was getting into form.
Still, the Koreans are upbeat about their prospects in Tokyo.
“I believe we’re capable (of winning gold medals),” Kim said.
(Reporting by Sakura Murakami; Editing by Hugh Lawson)