SINGAPORE: Esther Lai has clinched Singapore’s first gold medal in Asian junior fencing – ending five days of frustration for Team Singapore at the Asian Junior and Cadet Fencing Championships where its fencers suffered defeats across six different events.
The 16-year-old JC1 student from Raffles Institution pulled off a 15-4 win over defending champion Miho Yoshimura, Japan’s top fencer and 16th in the World Junior Rankings – 60 places ahead of the Singaporean fencer – in the girls’ epee individual event on Wednesday (Mar 1).
The win is expected to propel Esther into the world top 20 when the next rankings are released.
Having secured her path to the direct elimination stage with three victories and equal number of defeats in the poules, Esther said winning gold came as a surprise.
“I was simply hoping to get the best result and do better than last year’s result of reaching the Round of 16,” she said.
Despite a back injury picked up earlier in the tournament, the teenager powered through the semi-finals with a 15-12 win over Vietnam’s Nguyen Thi Luyen, before taking on 19-year-old Yoshimura.
“I was happy to get to the final and to be able to fence on the podium piste, and I wanted to make the most of the rare opportunity to fence against an opponent of Yoshimura’s calibre,” Esther said.
“I was very nervous before the final but managed to turn that into something positive as I was fencing under less pressure and could go out there and enjoy myself.”
The teenager had earlier won two bronze medals in the individual Under-17 cadet and team events, and will now defend the Under-20 girls’ team bronze medal from last year’s championships.
Yau Wee Sian, Vice-President of Fencing Singapore said: "This historic gold medal at this annual Asian Junior (U20) Fencing Championships is a timely affirmation and milestone for both Esther and our Singapore fencing community.
“We can only succeed as a community with the perseverance and never-say-die attitude of these youths, not forgetting the unwavering support from their family, coaches and the many people guiding and encouraging them along."
At the last edition of the championships in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, Team Singapore’s fencers returned home with three gold, three silver and eight bronze medals, one of Singapore’s best showings at the tournament.