Time is on the side of two fencers attempting to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Australian No.1 ranked foil athletes Alisha Kwag, 16, and Lucas Webber, 20, have their sights firmly set on Rio qualification but Japan 2020 is also on their radar.
They joined a group of 120 athletes and coaches for a high performance camp at the AIS recently. The elite athletes were able to hone their skills and knowledge with Australia’s best athletes and facilities.
“It would be nice to make it to Rio, but the main goal is Japan 2020,” said high-school student Kwag, who started the sport as a six-year-old, made the top-64 rankings at the world championships in 2015, and is the reigning national junior champion.
“When I first started fencing I was six [and] because everyone was a lot taller, and stronger and older than me I would always cry when I was fencing and I wouldn’t really enjoy it. After my first comp I started to really enjoy fencing.
“My mum wanted me to start fencing because I was really shy.”
Webber, who will be looking to qualify for Rio through a zonal competition, said age was on his side.
“Olympic qualification would be the No.1 goal at the moment,” said Webber, who will start studying for a Masters of Criminology in 2016. “Even if I don’t qualify for Rio – it’s a long process – I’m still quite young at the moment and the peak for this sport is not as low as other sports. So I can go on to mid-30s or something like that. So I’ll just be continually aiming to be in next Olympics from there.
“At the moment I’m trying to qualify through a zonal qualifier event which means I have to be ranked first in Australia on my international ranking which currently I hold thanks to my world championship results in Moscow. Hopefully I can maintain that over the next couple of months and go to the Asian qualifier.”
Webber said it was a fascination with bouting that sparked his interest in fencing.
“When I was a kid I was always interested in swords and all that kind of thing and going to play with sticks in the yard, but I discovered after an internet search that there was a club just five minutes up the road from my house. I had to go along to see how it was and I’ve been fencing ever since … that was about nine years ago now.”
Australian Fencing Team High Performance Manager Paul Crook said a team of six – including Webber, Kwag, Jo Halls (epee), Kristian Radford (epee), Jasper Rowley (sabre) and Sam Auty (sabre) – was expected to represent Australia in Rio.
“This is an elite level camp for athletes who are the national high performance team,” said Crook, pointing out that fencing includes three disciplines: epee, sabre and foil. “But it also has a level of athlete development so we look at the next generation below them.
“On the world stage medal prospects are difficult for Australians recognising some of the obstacles that face part-time athletes versus professional athletes from other countries.
“For us at the moment, athletes are looking at qualifying and getting to the middle of the field, but a big day or a big lift on the day … anything can happen.
“Camps such as this take athletes from all over the country and bring them into one sport to train together … there’s nothing better for them than getting into a larger group and getting more variety in opposition.”
Webber said fencing required tactical, physical and technical abilities.
“Physical chess is an analogy that’s thrown around a bit,” he said. “You have to work out different ways of out-smarting your opponent while also putting into practice all the physical attributes you’ve been putting into your training exercise. So there’s a lot of different facets in the sport.”