Samantha Catantan is The First Filipina Fencer to Helm the Philippine Flag at The Olympics

Samantha Catantan Is The First Filipina Fencer to Helm the Philippine Flag at The Olympics 

MICK PEREZ top and trousers. Photographed by Mark Nicdao for the July 2024 Issue of Vogue Philippines.

Following a near-career-ending injury, Samantha Catantan makes history as the first Filipina fencer to represent the Philippines in the Olympics. 

Less than a year ago, Samantha Catantan had to re-learn how to walk. 

An ACL tear is known as a career-ending injury for most athletes. But when the 22-year-old foil fencer heard her knee pop mid-match at the 32nd SEA Games semifinals, she saw no other option but to keep going. Masking a torn ligament, Catantan assumed position and with a deft motion won the bout. But the injury meant more than just withdrawing from the finals and skipping out on the gold—she would be missing crucial months in the Olympic-qualifying period. 

Luckily, defeat was never part of the young athlete’s vocabulary. Having fenced since age nine, the recovery journey felt long, but the Penn State Fencing Captain took every opportunity to use it to her advantage. She refused to miss a single day of training and, instead, worked to fortify her mental game. While the team went on with their regular training routines, Catantan showed up to the gym, learning to strengthen her leg again.

Fencing is often compared to a game of chess. It’s a battle of strategy as much as it is of physical strength. And if there was anything she learned from her parents, it was to believe in herself and to see every loss as a gain: “My strength is that I’m patient, and I trust in my timing. If it’s not for me, then it’s not for me. I just want to be better than I was yesterday.” 

“It was impossible for me to make [the Olympics],” she recalls. “With the injury and the little time left, I was kind of hopeless this year. But at the same time, I wanted to fence more. And I wanted to represent the Philippines in the Olympics.”

Ten months later, equipped with a knee brace and a newfound mental fortitude, Catantan became the first Filipina fencer to qualify for the Olympics, breaking the 32-year Olympic fencing drought for the Philippines. 

“I thought I was never gonna fence the same again,” Catantan admits. “Even in that tournament I was not mentally ready to move the same way as I was moving before, but I showed up.” 

And she followed through. In a touching moment, Catantan fell to her knees, sobbing, after winning her individual foil event at the Asia-Oceania Zonal Olympic Qualifier in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, in April. In the distance, her team is hollering in celebration, screaming her name, and pumping their firsts in the air. 

In Filipino, she beams, “It’s been [my team and I’s] dream to put the Philippines back on the map for fencing. So right after I got that last point, in my mind, I said, ‘Oh my gosh. We made it.’ Because I knew I was not just carrying the flag myself.”

This month, Vogue Philippines pays tribute to stories of grit, determination, and the pursuit of excellence. Below, meet more of the athletes who continue to shatter the glass ceiling of sports.


Vogue Philippines: July 2024 Issue

By BIANCA CUSTODIO, NANA CARAGAY, PATRICIA VILLORIA. Photographs by MARK NICDAO Beauty Editor JOYCE OREÑA Fashion Director PAM QUIÑONES. Styled by: David Milan. Makeup: Nadynne Esguerra. Hair: Mong Amado. Produced by: Bianca Zaragoza. Senior Multimedia Artist: Gabbi Constantino. Beauty Writer: Bianca Custodio. Nails: Extraordinail. Photographer’s Assistants: Arsan Sulser Hofileña, Crisaldo Soco, John Phillip Nicdao, Villie James Bautista.
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