Fencing: Cool Ywen claims historic gold

Fencer Lau Ywen made history for Singapore when she was crowned world sabre cadet champion in Bourges, France. The 16-year-old recovered from an early deficit to defeat Germany’s Larissa Eifler (left).
Fencer Lau Ywen made history for Singapore when she was crowned world sabre cadet champion in Bourges, France. The 16-year-old recovered from an early deficit to defeat Germany’s Larissa Eifler (left). PHOTO: FENCING SINGAPORE

Sabre fencer's achievement at cadet & junior world c'ships puts S'pore on world map

She was initially caught off guard by her opponent's aggressiveness and swiftness.

Singapore fencer Lau Ywen, who had never faced Germany's Larissa Eifler before, quickly fell to a 2-5 deficit in the women's cadet individual (sabre) final at the Fencing Cadet and Junior World Championships.

But the 16-year-old refused to panic, instead adapting her game to Eifler's offensive speed and rhythm, a move which allowed her to claw back the deficit and even go into the break with an 8-7 lead.

She eventually nicked a 15-14 win to secure Singapore's first-ever gold medal in the tournament in Bourges, France, on Saturday.

Fencing Singapore vice-president (high performance) Yau Wee Sian said: "We are pinching ourselves, we can't believe it. The joy is immense, the news was shared through WhatsApp and the Net."

PRAISE FROM MINISTER

Kudos to Lau Ywen and Fencing Singapore for flying our Singapore flag high. All the best to our cadet and junior fencers who are still competing in their respective events. Go TeamSG!

GRACE FU, Minister of Culture, Community and Youth, in a Facebook post yesterday.

Ywen, Singapore's top-ranked sabre fencer, credited her coach David Chan for calming her nerves prior to the final. She told The Straits Times: "I was nervous and filled with anticipation, but he assured me of the confidence he had in me. Knowing somebody believes in me gave me the confidence to fence my best with no fear."

Describing her historic win as "10 times better" than her 2015 SEA Games bronze medal, Ywen, who initially aimed for a top-eight placing, said: "It felt like a dream. I trained really hard, I knew I could do it, but for it to happen is shocking and amazing."

And thoroughly deserved too. For the United World College of South East Asia student had to overcome two regional winners - Asian cadet champion Risa Takashima of Japan (15-14) followed by European cadet champion Liza Pusztai of Hungary (15-13) - en route to the final.

Having the final word in the quarter-finals over Takashima, who had beaten her 15-13 in February's Asian Cadet and Junior Fencing Championships, helped her gain momentum for the later rounds, said Ywen.

Chan, himself a former national fencer, praised his protege's determination: "She was in the zone the entire day, especially from the top eight. The win shows that she can be considered one of the best in the world for her age group."

Chan, a national partner coach, also came in for praise. Said Yau: "The win shows that a local coach can bring a youth like Ywen to world-stage glory. It is a major accomplishment for him, it is very good encouragement and a lighthouse for other coaches who are currently fencers. It shows them, 'If he can do that, why can't we?' "

Ywen's mother Cynthia, who is also in Bourges, was naturally proud of her daughter, who has had to juggle fencing with school work. The trained lawyer said: "The amount of work and patience she and her coach have put in, the discipline to maintain her good grades, it is indescribable. "

With Amita Berthier finishing in the top eight of the women's cadet individual (foil) event on Friday and Ryan Ong doing likewise in the men's event yesterday before losing 4-15 to Kirill Borodachev of Russia, the Republic now has three top-eight cadet finishes in just three days of the competition, which runs till April 10. Last year, only two made the top eight.

Yau indicated that Ywen's win also affirms the strides the sport has made in recent years here.

Referring to how referee Dennis Leong, who officiated at events like the 2012 Olympics, is also in Bourges, Yau said: "We don't just have a fencer on the podium, we have a local coach and even a referee at the same competition.

"Every year, there are only six world champions (two each in epee, sabre and foil). To be one of the six, proves our little red dot is getting there as a community. It tells the fencing world that Singapore has arrived."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2016, with the headline 'Cool Ywen claims historic gold'. Print Edition | Subscribe