Top fencer Maxine Esteban ‘did everything humanly possible’ to stay in PH

Philip Matel

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Top fencer Maxine Esteban ‘did everything humanly possible’ to stay in PH

LOCKED IN. Filipina fencer Maxine Esteban listens to her coach Andrea Magro.


Now an Ivorian naturalized player, former top Filipina fencer Maxine Esteban says a 'series of unfortunate events' prompted her to compete for another flag

MANILA, Philippines – Former top Filipino fencer Maxine Esteban is now charting her path towards a spot in the Paris Olympics, but this time, under a different flag.

Esteban, who was granted release by the Philippine Fencing Association (PFA) and the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC), started to compete as a naturalized player for Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), located on the southern coast of west Africa.

“Sometimes, we must give ourselves enough respect to walk away from something that doesn’t value our worth,” Esteban said in a statement sent to Philippine media on Tuesday, June 27.

“I want everyone to know that I did everything humanly possible to fulfill this long-time dream with the Filipino flag sewn on my uniform.”

Although sports politics reportedly prompted her switch, Esteban said she’ll disclose the reason in the future.

“[A] series of unfortunate events—very little of which I had any control over—forced me to chase my dream in a distant, yet familiar land,” said Esteban.

The 22-year-old Esteban recently leapt 16 spots to a career-best No. 46 in the world rankings for foil, the best for a Filipino. She described it as a much-needed confidence booster following a tumultuous year.

“The past few weeks, I have been deep in preparation and competition as the Olympic qualifiers have started, and now I forge my path toward my dream of competing in the Olympics,” Esteban said.

“Now, I can say that I am in the right physical and mental space to compete for an Olympic appearance in Paris 2024,” she added.

“The road ahead is still long and filled with uncertainties and challenges, but at least now, there is a road.”

Esteban, who is 10 months removed from a full ACL tear on her left knee, copped a bronze medal in the Senior African Championships held in Cairo, Egypt last June 23.

Incidentally, it was in the same city where she suffered the horrendous injury while representing the Philippines in the 2022 World Fencing Championships last July.

Esteban, who is a four-time Southeast Asian Games medalist, defeated the reigning African silver medalist, Morocco’s Zakarani Youssra in the quarterfinals.

However, she fell short of a finals appearance when she narrowly lost to Olympic silver medalist and hometown bet Nora Mohamed in the semifinals match of the individual women’s foil category.

She continues to be mentored by legendary coach Andrea Magro, who has over three decades’ worth of experience under his belt, and is training full time in Italy.

Esteban thanks POC for giving shot

Esteban, though, still thanked the POC for waiving her three-year residency period, describing it as a fair chance to accomplish the rare feat of possibly medaling in the Olympic Games.

“Because no matter what stage I will compete in, be it in a small tournament or—God willing—in the Olympics, the flag I represent only tells half the story,” said Esteban.

“In my heart, I will always carry two inspirations: The land of my birth and the country I now call home.”

Côte d’Ivoire, a former French colony, had been in contact with Esteban for quite some time before the transfer of nationalities.

Esteban, a former Ateneo varsity player, held clinics there before her injury, and aimed to continue it in what she describes as an environment of “respect, honor, and equal opportunities.”

Basketball center Ange Kouame — a fellow Ateneo athlete who went the other way around and is now representing Gilas Pilipinas — was elated after she shared the news to him, Esteban said.

She becomes the latest Filipino to represent a foreign country after switching sports federations, following the United States’ Wesley So (chess) and Japan’s Yuka Saso (golf).

Up next for her is the 2023 World Championships in Milan, Italy from July 23 to 26.

Esteban, who is currently in Ivory Coast before flying back to Italy, will face a lengthy process to achieve an Olympic spot.

She said she must accumulate a certain number of points to be able to make it to Paris next year, or receive an automatic invite.

There will be about 15 competitions to be staged by the International Fencing Federation (FIE), where the four highest ranking teams in the world will be plucked to join.

The highest-ranked team per continent will be invited, then the highest-ranked fencer per continent will automatically clinch a spot. – Rappler.com

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