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A cat, a deal and a gold medal: Teen fencer Elle Koh delivers at the SEA Games

A cat, a deal and a gold medal: Teen fencer Elle Koh delivers at the SEA Games

Elle Koh and her cat Cookie. (Photo: Juliana Seow)

SINGAPORE: She really wanted a pet. And so 14-year-old fencer Elle Koh made a deal with her parents. 

"I actually wanted a pet for very long - cat or dog. And my parents promised me that if I won a medal (in an individual tournament) overseas, they would get me a pet," she told reporters after winning Singapore’s second gold of the 31st SEA Games.

But then when an adoption drive came up, things changed.

"There were some adoptions open in late December (where animals) weren't getting adopted at all. So I somehow convinced them to get me the cat!" she said.

And the Games debutant kept up her end of the bargain on Friday (May 13), winning gold in the final of the women's individual epee competition.

In a thrilling all-Singapore final, Elle upset defending champion Kiria Tikanah 12-11 in sudden death. It was the first time she beat her close friend and teammate.

"It was very nerve-wracking. To be honest, I didn't expect to win at all," she said. "I (was prepared) to do my best and just watched what she was doing and adapted."


Elle's journey is all the more remarkable considering she almost did not qualify for the individual event which she won on Friday.

"She had to go through a lot of ups and downs," said national epee partner coach Henry Koh, Elle's father. "Her qualification was not smooth, it came down to the very last event, very last bout."

He added: "Up to the last competition, it was possible, plausible that one of the others would catch up to her and she would go to the Games (and compete) in the team event, not the individual one."

Elle, whose mother is Fencing Singapore's president Juliana Seow, is Singapore's second youngest athlete at the Games; diver Max Lee is two months younger than her.

In the preliminary rounds of the event, Elle won two of her four bouts, but struggled early on.

"In the pools (portion of the event), I was worried about getting hit and I definitely had the wrong mentality," said Elle.

"I was just trying not to lose instead of trying to win. And I think my demeanour was also quite bad. I was really upset and disappointed and I didn't have a good mindset."

But after taking in advice and instructions, she found her groove.

Elle's victory also means that she one-ups her father with an individual gold as compared to his individual bronze in the men's foil event when Koh competed for Singapore.

Coincidentally, Koh clinched the medal during the 2003 Games in Vietnam, four years before his daughter was born.

"I thought it was quite a coincidence, a fun, happy fact that my first one is in Hanoi," said Elle.

"I'm just gonna celebrate with my family. And I'm not thinking too much about like the different colours between his and mine."

En route to the finals, Elle registered an impressive clutch victory (15-14) against Vietnam's Hong Vu Thi, while Kiria beat Thailand's Korawan Thanee 15-12.

"From now on, I think there's definitely a lot more pressure ... I'll continue trying my best, if I make it or don't make it, I'll try not to be too hard on myself," said Elle.

And regardless what happens in the long road ahead, she will always have her hard-earned SEA Games gold and her dear cat Cookie.

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Source: CNA/mt


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