There was a time when Asian fencing results in big international competitions was all about three major countries, but that they were reasonably equally matched compared to each other.

Not so anymore.

The Wuxi World Championships have decisively proven that South Korea has pulled ahead from China and Japan by a significant margin. After those three countries, there is a second tier among the Asian countries consisting of Hong Kong, former Soviet republics in Asia, and Iran. Other Asian countries are not making any significant imprint yet, with a 32th place individually as their best result. (However, look out for the Singaporean Women´s foil team – they got silver after being ranked 13th in the 2018 Junior World Championships.)

I have compiled a list of results posted by Asian fencers and teams in the Wuxi Championships that shows that quite clearly:

South Korea got all three individual medals earned by Asian countries in this year´s championships.Of the 7 semifinal appearances in the team events, they posted 6 of them.

Assume that this as good as any of all possible predictors of what the medal table of the next Asian Championships. We would, if these results are assumed to stand and one simply deletes all non-Asian results in order to predict those results. We would then get a medal table that looks like this:

South Korea has not just pulled ahead compared to the other Asian countries, it has also established itself as a world power. Look at this comparison of team results, in which South Korea is compared to the five leading countries in the all-time World Championship medal table:

South Korea is the only country that got all its teams into the semifinals, and got 4 team medals. Italy and Russia can match the medal count, but their weakest teams are significantly weaker than the two weakest Korean teams. Meanwhile, Germany has some regrouping to do. (Peter Joppich, who won his first World Championship in 2003, was still on the team at age 35, placing 64th.)

This dominant performance of the South Korean teams, across all weapons and for both genders, stands in a bit of a contrast to their results in the 2018 Junior World Championships, where they placed 8th in the overall point standings, significantly after Japan and not far ahead of China.

The conclusions I draw are twofold:

  1. The South Korean fencing federation should be an illuminating case study for anyone wishing to figure out how to improve the results in your country.
  2. Why are the current Korean seniors better than the juniors? Is it simply some cohort issue, or do Korean fencers get quite a bit better after aging in to the senior category? If the latter, what are they doing to improve, and can that be applied to fencers elsewhere?