Walbert Mendoza broke the medal drought for Filipino fencers Tuesday in the 26th Southeast Asian Games by capturing the men’s individual sabre title with a thrilling 15-14 victory in the finals over Vietnam’s Than An at the University of Brunei multi-purpose hall here.
Comfortably up, 13-8, and needing only two points to clinch the gold, Mendoza survived a ferocious comeback by the Vietnamese, who appeared to have stalled for time by complaining of a twisted right ankle that shifted the match’s momentum.
With the score tied at 14-all, Mendoza, however, put an end to Anh’s rally by connecting with a clear thrust to his opponent’s wrist to clinch the title and give the fencing team its first medal after three days of action.
“Nawala yung momentum ko doon sa timeout ng Vietnamese,” said Mendoza. “But I just had to keep my focus because I knew that he would be aggressive and I just had to match him.”
The 5-foot-10 pride of Guiguinto, Bulacan, who began competing in the regional sports showcase at 18 in the 1997 Jakarta Games, disclosed that this would be his last Southeast Asian Games stint, “because I simply want to win back the gold I narrowly lost to a Thai four years ago.”
It was Mendoza’s fourth gold in the event after clinching the championship three times in a row during the 2001, 2003 and 2005 editions of the SEA Games.
His victory more than made up for the losses of teammates Dinah Remolacio and Veena Nuestro, who were knocked out in the pool eliminations of the women’s individual foil, and Gian Carlo Nocom, who lost to Anh, 13-15, in the quarterfinals.
Upon learning of Mendoza’s triumph, West Java Philippine secretariat chief Jay Adalem immediately congratulated the fencer by saying “I hope this gold medal breakthrough by Walbert in our cluster here will be the beginning of good things to come in the next few days.”
“Wally’s victory will certainly boost the morale of our remaining fencers,” said coach Orly Viscayno. “Sana magtuloy-tuloy na ito.”
Competing on Wednesday is the men’s team epee composed of Avelino Victorino Jr., Almario Viscayno, Arman Bernal and Joshua Paulino. Also seeing action are Joanna Franquelli, Jilyn Nicanor and Lenita Reyes in the women’s team sabre event.