22 year old épée fencer Celine Chong is one of the athletes that will compete for the Singapore team at the ASEAN University Games (AUG) that will be held here in July. The third-year medical undergraduate at the National University of Singapore (NUS) also competed in the previous AUG in Palembang, where she picked up one of Singapore’s four gold medals at the games.
Celine also represented Singapore at the 2013 Asian Junior and Cadet Championships, where she was part of the women’s épée team that snatched a historic team silver medal for the Republic in the junior category.
We caught up with Celine for a quick chat about fencing and her goals for the upcoming AUG.
How did you start out in fencing? Did you pick it up in junior college or during your university days?
I actually picked up fencing back when I was in Primary Six, when my dad’s friend (the owner of my current fencing club) suggested I give fencing a try. I fell in love with the sport almost immediately, and I’ve never looked back since then!
You won the women’s epee gold at the Palembang AUG in 2014. How did you feel about the performance?
I was really pleased with my fencing that day, because I was able to stay calm under pressure and successfully execute all my tactics. I wasn’t expecting to make it to the semifinals, let alone the finals, so the win was a pleasant surprise! Overall, it was an amazing experience, and I’m just really thankful to my coach, teammates, family and friends for all their support back then.
How is experience competing in a major regional competition such as the AUG? Has it been beneficial for your development as a fencer?
It’s such a great learning experience; I really treasure every opportunity I get to compete on an international stage! We have some very good fencers in the region, so I always enjoy the challenge of going up against them, though it can admittedly be a bit nerve-wracking sometimes when the stakes are this high.
I’ve definitely grown as a fencer from these experiences; every fencer has their own style, so with every new opponent I get to pick up new tactics, as well as learn more about my own fencing style. I also learn how to focus under immensely stressful conditions, which is an invaluable skill both on and off the piste.
What is your usual routine when preparing for a tournament?
A few weeks before the competition, I shift my focus in trainings from learning new skills to reinforcing & refining my stronger techniques; I also always make sure that I have at least two days of rest between my last training session and the competition day. The night before the competition, I test my equipment to make sure they’re in good condition, prepare my snack box (Kinder Bueno is my staple competition food), then spend some time mentally prepping myself right before I sleep. The mental preparation bit is extremely important for me, because I tend to overthink things – I try to clear my mind and channel my energy into trusting my abilities instead.
You’ve qualified for the 2016 AUG that will be held in Singapore. What are your goals for the 2016 AUG?
It would be such an honour to be able to win a gold medal and fly the national flag high on home ground. Having said that, regardless of the outcome, my goal is to leave AUG 2016 knowing that I couldn’t have fenced any better than I already did.
What are the three biggest misconceptions about fencing, and what should people know about the sport?
1) When you mention fencing, the mental image of swashbuckling pirates (not unlike those in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies) may spring to some people’s minds. While we’re honoured to be compared to the likes of Jack Sparrow, the sport isn’t theatrical at all!
2) Many people refer to fencing as “that sport where you poke other people”. Although they’re not entirely wrong, there are three weapons in fencing (foil, épée and sabre), and the sabre weapon is actually used in a slashing motion rather than a poking one.
3) Many people assume that fencing is extremely dangerous, probably because it’s a contact sport that involves “swords”. While every sport undoubtedly has its risks, fencing is not necessarily more dangerous than most other sports! Contrary to popular belief, the tips of our fencing blades are actually blunt, not sharp. Also, in addition to our full-body fencing suits, we observe very strict safety protocols when sparring, so fencing really is a relatively safe sport.
Is there a particular value in fencing that is not necessarily found in other sports? What makes fencing different?
I would say that patience is one of the core values of fencing. You have to set up your attack/defence and wait for the right moment to execute it; rushing into it without catching the right timing could cost you your point. Thus, the faster fencer may not always win!
I think what makes fencing different is that it requires a good balance of physical and mental dexterity; it’s not unlike playing physical chess. There’s a great deal of multitasking involved, and this may not feature as prominently in some other sports.
How has fencing shaped your personality and world view, as well as how you approach your studies?
I’ve definitely become more resilient ever since I started fencing. Over the past ten years of competitive fencing, I’ve had my fair share of failures; Though it wasn’t easy initially, I’ve since learned how to turn each failure into a valuable lesson, and move on with a positive attitude. Being a sportsperson has also taught me a lot about integrity, and I do my best to uphold this in all that I do.
Studies wise, fencing has taught me how to better cope with stress and failure. In addition, having had to juggle multiple commitments from a young age, I’d like to think I’ve become more disciplined over the years!
Besides this July’s AUG, where else can we see you compete this year?
For now, I intend to compete at this year’s Asian Varsity Fencing Championships (hosted by SMU), as well as the NUS Inter-University Fencing Championships 2016.
What would your advice be for people who wants to start / learn fencing?
Fencing isn’t one of those sports which you can pick up in a day – there’re a lot of basics to be learnt before you can actually start sparring, and this could take months. So though it may be tedious and less exciting initially, don’t give up because you’ll get there eventually! Fencing is truly a beautiful sport, and once you finally start sparring, you’ll realise that the wait was worth it ☺
Catch Celine at the 18th AUG fencing competition which will take place at NUS University Town Multi-Purpose Hall 2 from 13 to 18 July 2016!