By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Aug. 27 (Yonhap) -- With this year's Asian Games at home fast approaching, the South Korean fencers said Wednesday they will take on their rivals from China with confidence.
The fencers opened their practice during the media day event at the National Training Center in Seoul, where they're getting ready for the Sept. 19-Oct. 4 Asiad to be held in Incheon, just west of the capital city.
South Koreans will be competing under heightened expectations, after posting excellent results in recent competitions. At the Asian championships held in South Korea in July, South Korea swept up nine gold medals, including all six gold medals in individual events in epee, foil and sabre. Then at the world championships in Russia, also in July, South Korea earned four silver medals, the best performance by an Asian participant.
Two years earlier, South Korea enjoyed its best Olympic campaign ever with two gold medals and six medals in total.
At the previous Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, South Korea stunned the host and led all nations with seven fencing gold medals, three more than China.
South Korean fencers are in action during their practice on Aug. 27, 2014, at the National Training Center in Seoul. (Yonhap)
The South Korean fencers will have a bull's-eye on their backs, but Jung Jin-sun, who will compete in the men's epee, said the pressure might actually be on the Chinese opponents.
"I have noticed the Chinese fencers get visibly nervous when they face me," said Jung, the reigning Asian champ who helped South Korea win the team gold in epee at the 2010 Asiad. "I could tell they were rushing things on the piste. If I can take advantage of that and compete with confidence, then I should have no major trouble."
Jung added that his toughest foe may actually be one of his teammates, Park Kyoung-doo, who won the world championship silver and the Asian championship bronze last month.
"Kyoung-doo is my biggest rival," Jung said. "The best case scenario for us would be to meet each other in the finals."
Gu Bon-gil, the 2010 Asiad champ in the men's individual sabre, said China is going through a transition.
South Korean epee fencer Jung Jin-sun speaks to reporters during the media day at the National Trianing Center in Seoul on Aug. 27, 2014. (Yonhap)
"Some young athletes have come up since Guangzhou and I don't think they're as difficult to handle as before," Gu said. "If anything, we have to be more wary of Iran than China. I know other countries have had a chance to watch us compete often, and we have to also study our opponents carefully and stick to our game plan."
Kim Ji-yeon, a surprise Olympic champ in the women's individual sabre in 2012, said she is admittedly nervous going into her first Asian Games, but it's not really because she has to take on the Chinese fencers.
"I have beaten my Chinese opponents at world championships, and that has given me confidence," Kim said. "They compete in a similar style as us, in that they make the most of their quick footwork. But we are more mobile and agile than they are and we're not really worried."
Head coach Shim Jae-sung said that while South Korea may be ahead of China across the disciplines, the advantage may not last long.
"At the Asian championships and world championships this year, we exceeded our own expectations," Shim said. "And China didn't do as well as we'd feared. But if China has been concentrating harder on the Asian Games than on those two events, then we might run into some unexpected obstacles."
Shim said China will battle South Korea for the gold in the men's and women's foil, women's epee and women's sabre. In other disciplines, Japan, Hong Kong and Kazakhstan could be contenders.
The coach also cautioned against overconfidence among his athletes.
"We have done well recently, but we are still not at the top of the world," Shim said. "We have to keep challenging ourselves to be the best. We're determined to win at least seven gold medals again. We hope to prove that we weren't just lucky to do so well at the London Olympics."