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Champion Sun back on guard

Updated: 2023-03-30 10:43
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China's epee ace taking step-by-step route to Paris Games after returning from yearlong hiatus

Olympic champion Sun Yiwen is gradually regaining her confidence on the international stage after returning from a yearlong break from fencing. Provided to China Daily

With the pressure and expectation levels ratcheted up a notch, beginning a new Olympic cycle as the reigning champion is never easy. Just ask Chinese fencer Sun Yiwen.

After winning a historic gold in the women's epee individual at the Tokyo Olympics and finishing fourth at China's National Games in 2021, Sun opted out of the 2021-22 season, instead choosing to recover from a series of injuries.

After recharging her batteries, Sun started the 2022-23 season at No 94 in the world — the lowest ranking of her senior career. And while Sun is fully focused on trying to climb back up the rankings, she's trying to keep expectations in check of topping the podium again at the 2024 Games.

Indeed, Sun is approaching her journey to the Paris Olympics with a fresh perspective.

"I'm still improving and growing, I'm not coming back to say that I'm going to win the gold medal again," Sun told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.

"I think I had a lot of weaknesses and deficiencies on my way to the gold medal in Tokyo, and there is still a lot of room for improvement," she added.

"I think if I can focus on perfecting my technique, I will be in a better state. The result is not the most important aspect for me, but rather to identify and rectify my weaknesses, and along the way make that process enjoyable."

Sun was forced to withdraw from the team event in Tokyo after sustaining a muscle strain in her left leg — one of the many injuries that prompted her to take a year off from competition.

"After the Olympic Games, I always had some kind of injury. So most of the time during my year out, I was with the national team receiving treatment," Sun told Xinhua in January.

"I had a problem with my back and tail bone, which compressed the nerves. I haven't jumped since the end of the Olympics. Even a small jump can affect my nerves and cause a lot of pain."

Sun resumed training in October last year and since then has competed in four World Cup tournaments and one grand prix.

After managing just a month of regular training, she finished 65th in her season debut in Tallinn, Estonia. But Sun made huge strides forward in Barcelona, Spain in February, when she claimed bronze in both the individual and team events.

"I didn't compete or train properly for more than a year, so I was a bit rusty in every aspect. I was basically rediscovering my feeling for fencing as I was competing," the 30-year-old said after the Nanjing stop of the World Cup last weekend.

"But I think I'm improving steadily and getting it back little by little. I didn't think I could win a World Cup medal in such a short space of time. It has given me huge confidence."

The fencing qualification window for Paris 2024 opens on April 3.Sun and her teammates have a busy schedule ahead over the next few months with a series of domestic and international competitions, including the National Championship, Epee Grand Prix, Epee World Cup, the Asian Championship and the World Championship.

"My coach told me not to rush. Fencing requires steady progress without ups and downs, both mentally and physically. One step at a time," said a calm and confident Sun.

"Each event is better than the previous one."


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