SINGAPORE: Singaporean teen fencer Amita Berthier's podium finish in the cadet Foil category at the World Junior and Cadet Championships in Bulgaria on Tuesday morning (Apr 4) holds extra special meaning.
It has been more than a year since her father Eric died after a fall at his workplace and for the 16-year-old, the bronze medal was something her late dad would have been happy with.
“This achievement means the world to me, as three years ago, I was at the same competition and venue. My mum, my (late) dad, and my sister was there as well, and I got a top-16 finish.” said Amita, who also won gold last year in the Asian Cadet and Junior Fencing Championship in Bahrain.
“This year is my final year in the Under-17 (cadet) category and I managed to leave with a medal. I did this for my mum and my late dad who passed away. I know he would’ve been very proud of me and be so happy. It means a lot that I’m going home with a world championship medal."
Amita said her defeat to eventual silver medallist Nora Hajas in the semi-finals was a learning experience. “It was definitely a tough match. My opponent was one of the strongest fencers in her category in Europe and in the world. She didn’t win gold in the end, but was one of the better fencers out there and it was a really close match.”
“I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed with my results, as to get a medal in the world championships is already difficult,”said Amita, who recently finished her high-school diploma course last week. “The fact that I was really close, makes me really proud of myself because I knew I gave my best.”
Amita Berthier (left) in action at the World Junior and Cadet Championships in Bulgaria. (Photo: International Fencing Federation)
Studying in the US is one of the aims for Amita, who sits for the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) in October. For now, the budding foil fencer is training full-time in Boston with her former coach Ralf Bissdorf at Marx Fencing Academy.
“Training and competition in the US is so intense, and it keeps me on my toes. There’s so much room for improvement for my game, and the exposure I get there is good as there are so many talented fencers, with different styles and it keeps you going.”
EMOTIONAL SEEING AMITA ON PODIUM
For Amita's mother, Mdm Uma Berthier, being away from her daughter has not been easy. “It’s been difficult for myself, Amita and her sister Aarya, as we’re a pretty close-knit family and we support each other. But with modern-day technology, there’s Skype and Facetime, which made it easier to communicate constantly.” said the 52-year-old, who runs her own research consultancy.
“We were reassured because she would text to say she’s doing good and doing fine, and it gave me some courage. I told her, 'If this is what you want to do, there’s sacrifices to be made. If you’re willing to take on these sacrifices, then I’m willing to support you.'"
Seeing her daughter on the podium at the world stage made it all worth it, said the mother of four. “I saw her game face and I felt positive that she was going to go as far as she can. For her to be at the podium was very emotional for me as we were there in 2014 with my late husband. I knew exactly what he would have told her then to see her fight hard to get to the medal stage.”
She added: “I don’t know how else to describe it other than really and truly feeling proud to see her there wearing her national colours.”
POTENTIAL TO ACHIEVE MORE AT WORLD STAGE
Having trained Amita since her Singapore Sports School days, coach Bissdorf saw first-hand what she is capable of. “I saw her growing up over the past seven years and I think there has been a continuous development,” said the German, an Olympic silver medallist in 2000. “Seven years ago when I arrived in Singapore (to coach the Singapore Sports School), I had to tell her parents that it is indeed possible to win medals beyond Southeast Asian level. It is possible to win at Asian and world level.”
Team Singapore's Amita Berthier (left). (Photo: International Fencing Federation)
“So she gradually did all that, winning medals at the Southeast Asian level. Last year she won gold at the Asian level in the Under-17 age group and now a medal at the world stage at the age category.”
He gushed: “I’ve never seen an athlete who works as hard as she does. She eats, breathes and loves fencing every day.
“A talented, hardworking athlete who believes in what she does – that’s basically who she is. Over the years she has improved technically and tactically, and I sincerely hope that will continue.”
Up next for Amita is the Junior category bouts in Bulgaria in three days’ time. “A lot of the opponents are older than you, and are much more experienced. You’d need to know how to react to certain situations and so on. For Juniors, I’m ranked 36th in the world. Hopefully, if I get a good result, my ranking with improve,” said the teen.
“(This) cadet bronze medal win will in fact spur me on to push myself and I know that I can do it.”