HANGZHOU, Sept. 22 (Xinhua) -- The fencing events at the Asian Games have always been a duel between China and South Korea since China's Asiad debut at Tehran 1974.
In recent years, Japan has emerged as a strong contender. The Asian Fencing Championships held in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province in June this year can be regarded as an important reference for the Hangzhou Asian Games, as Japan ranked first with four gold, one silver and two bronze medals, followed by South Korea's 3-5-4 and China's 2-3-6.
During a training camp ahead of the Hangzhou Games, Chinese fencers have vowed to contend for the podium top in multiple events.
China has sent a 24-strong team to participate in all 12 events, with a combination of veterans with previous Asian Games experience and young athletes in all three weapons. Chen Qingyuan, Shao Yaqi, Yang Hengyu, Chen Haiwei, Yan Yinghui and Lan Minghao will return for their second Asian Games, while Olympic champion Sun Yiwen will compete for the third time.
Chen won her first Asian Championships individual title in the women's foil in Wuxi, and led the team to a silver medal. On the men's side, Mo Ziwei won the long-awaited Asian Championships individual title and helped China claim an unexpected foil team silver in the World Championships.
In Hangzhou, Chen and Mo will both be playing with teammates who barely had any international experience. But in an exclusive interview with Xinhua, the foil coaches are both looking to gold medals at the Hangzhou Asian Games.
"The team is young, but we still hope to win a gold medal, whether it is individual or team. Of course there will be challenges, and Japan is our main competitor. We have lost all of our matches against Japan, but we hope to catch up gradually," said women's foil coach Lei Sheng.
China's men's and women's sabre teams are currently ranked 10th and 13th in the world. Shao is the highest-ranked in women's individual on the 11th, while no men's fencers made into the top 50.
According to the men's epee coach Chen Feng, the goal of the Asian Games is to ensure a top three finish in the team event, and make a breakthrough in the individual competition.
As the traditional powerhouse of the Chinese team, the Chinese women's epee team has been having a down time this year as they only collected two bronze medals in the Asian Championships.
But as the defending champion in the women's epee team, Sun has vowed for gold, saying "the goal of this Asian Games is definitely the gold medal, which is beyond doubt."
Meanwhile, the goal of the men's epee team is also to fight for the team champion. "It's a little regret that we won the silver medal last time. This time it can't get worse," said Lan. "It's a challenge for us, but we will try our best."
As China's main rival, South Korea is world No. 1 in the men's epee and women's sabre, as well as second in women's sabre and fourth in men's epee. As one of the country's most decorated athletes in the Asian Games, men's sabre fencer Gu Bon-gil has won three consecutive individual titles in the past three Asian Games and two gold medals in the team event in 2014 and 2018. The 34-year-old will be aiming for his fourth straight individual titles and third straight team titles in Hangzhou.
Japan will be the strongest competitors in the foil events, as they are ranked first and fourth in the men's and women's categories. China's Hong Kong has also made huge progress in recent years. Tokyo Olympics men's foil champion Cheung Ka Long and world No. 2 in women's epee Kong Vivian Man Wai are both strong contenders for individual gold medals. Meanwhile, Kazakhstan and Iran could also pose respective challenges in the men's epee and men's sabre. ■