Olympic fencer Esteban moves past heartbreak, builds up Paris training

By Maria Romina Austria

May 27, 2024, 8:02 am

<p>Filipino-Ivorian fencer Maxine Esteban and her Italian coach, Andrea Magro <em>(Facebook)</em></p>

Filipino-Ivorian fencer Maxine Esteban and her Italian coach, Andrea Magro (Facebook)

MANILA – Maxine Esteban spent five days in the Philippines before flying to Germany on Saturday to resume her training for the Paris Olympics.

After all the brouhaha over her naturalization in Cote d'Ivoire and eventual qualification to the Summer Games, the 23-year-old fencer is drowning out the unwanted noise.

She is fulfilling a dream she has nurtured since she was eight, although she still feels “weird” wearing the orange, white and green of the country she is representing.

“Yeah, I felt sad at first because I’ve always wanted to represent the Philippines but it is what it is,” Esteban, ranked world No. 35 in foil, told the Philippine News Agency in an interview.

She admitted she was "heartbroken" when she was dropped from the national pool by the Philippine Fencing Association (PFA).

After a tournament in Hong Kong, her Italian coach, Andrea Magro, granted her a brief vacation that allowed her to renew her sponsorship contract with a sportswear brand; watch a game of Alas Pilipinas in the Asian Volleyball Confederation Challenge Cup to support her friend from Ateneo de Manila, Faith Nisperos; grant media interviews; and spend time with her family before she sees them again in Paris in July. 

She will compete in the Championnats d’ Afique in Morocco on June 6, train in Poland, and join a training camp in Paris with the Japanese and French national teams in the run-up to the Olympics.

Esteban tied for 83rd at the 2024 Absolute Fencing Gear FIE Foil Grand Prix in Washington, D.C., United States on March 15. Her ranking points were enough to top the Olympic qualifying race for the African continental zone.

“For all the second chances, opened windows, miraculous feats and generous provisions, thank you, Heavenly Father,” Esteban wrote on Facebook the day after her qualification. “This is for Cote d’Ivoire, the country that embraced me, believed in me and supported me all the way, and for the Philippines, the country my heart will always beat proud of.”

Philippine Olympic Committee president Abraham Tolentino also immediately congratulated Esteban through a text message sent to her father.

She initially wanted to fight for her slot in the Philippine team even after her reinstallment pleas to the fencing pool were denied. In the end, she decided it was best to move on.

Esteban said Filipinos whom she encounters abroad always give her a feel of home.

“They welcome me everywhere,” she said. “They are always sweet and welcoming. Even my new teammates are nice. They remind me of my former teammates.”

Among her former teammates in the Philippines, Samantha Catantan is also going to Paris after ruling the Asia-Oceania Zonal Olympic Qualifier in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates on April 27.

Catantan and 12 other Filipinos have qualified to date -- gymnasts Carlos Yulo, Aleah Finnegan, LeVi Jung-Ruivivar and Emma Malabuyo; world No. 2 pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena; boxers Eumir Felix Marcial, Nesthy Petecio and Aira Villegas; weightlifters Vanessa Sarno, Erleen Ann Ando and John Febuar Ceniza; and rower Joanie Delgaco.

The PFA previously said it chose Catantan, the world No. 273, because of a better head-to-head record against Esteban. Thus, a higher chance to qualify via the Asian zone.

As in all the previous tournaments she joined in, Esteban said she will give it her all to be deserving of her slot because she knows an athlete’s career is unstable.

“I am ready for the Olympics. I fought for this because I cannot wait for the next [Olympic] cycle,” she said.

Her biggest weapon?

“My parents, my family. They are always my biggest supporters,” she said. “They don’t pressure me at all. They just want me to do what I love.” (PNA)