KUALA LUMPUR - Unable to sit for long without feeling pain in her back after suffering a stress fracture at the start of this year, Lau Ywen and her team were hoping to use the SEA Games merely to gauge her recovery.
The prognosis was delivered emphatically on Wednesday (Aug 23), as she won the women's individual sabre gold by beating Thailand's Pornsawan Ngernrungruangroj 15-12 in the final.
The 17-year-old Singaporean said: "There was a bit of pain throughout the day but the physiotherapists helped in between bouts. I just powered through it.
"I'm so happy to do everyone proud. It's my first SEA Games gold medal."
This was also her first competition since February's Asian Junior and Cadet Fencing Championships in Thailand, where her back gave way after a packed schedule led to her pushing herself too hard.
A visit to the doctor's revealed three hairline cracks in her lower back. The discovery meant she had to stop fencing for three months, followed by another two months of rehabilitation.
She was unable to defend her Junior and Cadet World Championships sabre title - her victory in the cadet (Under-17) category in 2016 was Singapore's first fencing title on the world stage - held earlier in April in Bulgaria.
The United World College of South-east Asia student returned to training only last month, with coach David Chan making slight adjustments to his protege's style.
He said: "Ywen likes to throw her body forward when she attacks, but we had to minimise that as it over-extends her back."
Despite the short time frame, her participation in Malaysia was never in doubt. Ywen had won an individual and team bronze two years ago at the Singapore SEA Games.
"Five months out, I couldn't stand it any more," she chuckled. "Fencing is a really important part of my life and this was the longest I'd been away since I was six."
The reigning Sportsgirl of the Year - the first fencer to win a major honour at the Singapore Sports Awards - was razor sharp on her return.
Her mother Cynthia told The Straits Times: "That award gave her such a boost. She felt so encouraged to be rewarded and recognised."
Ywen was the the second-youngest of the 12 competitors and went undefeated in the poules, winning all her five bouts.
In the final, she beat the higher-ranked and more experienced Pornsawan, who ironically needed a medical timeout for her right shin midway through the contest. The 20-year-old Thai is world No. 118 while Ywen is ranked 150th.
Chan said: "This was really unexpected. Ywen had a serious injury and I just wanted her to get back into form and work towards next year's Junior and Cadet World Championships (in Verona, Italy).
"She showed maturity today in the way she fenced. She was in control of the final from the start."
Coupled with Amita Berthier's gold in the women's foil, the Republic finished with a third of the golds offered at the Malaysian International Trade and Exhibition Centre.
At the last Games, which had 12 individual and team events, Singapore won three golds, three silvers and seven bronzes.
It would be unfair to rank her medals, Ywen said, but yesterday's accomplishment was satisfying to say the least, judging by the scream she unleashed after the final point.
"I judge myself on how I feel I fenced and today I did really well."
Chan said she looked happy out on the piste. It was an astute observation. It is where Ywen belongs.