Fencing: Amita Berthier wins gold at Asian Junior and Cadet Championships in Jordan

Singapore’s Amita Berthier putting on her mask in the women’s foil team quarterfinal against Chinese Taipei at the 18th Asian Games on Aug 23, 2018.
Singapore’s Amita Berthier putting on her mask in the women’s foil team quarterfinal against Chinese Taipei at the 18th Asian Games on Aug 23, 2018.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Amita Berthier became an Asian junior fencing champion on Sunday (March 3), but not before having to endure a couple of nervy moments, which she believes have galvanised the mental aspect of her game.

The Singaporean top seed beat No. 3 Park Ji-hee of South Korea 15-12 in the junior (Under-20) foil final of the Asian Junior and Cadet Fencing Championships in Amman, Jordan, to add to her cadet (Under-17) girls' title in 2016.

The 18-year-old told The Straits Times in a phone interview on Monday that she derived the most satisfaction from two come-from-behind 15-11 wins over Japan's Arisa Kano in the last 16 and China's Fu Yingying in the semi-finals.

"I struggled against the Japanese because she's a (left-hander) like me and we haven't fenced in a while," said Berthier. "She gave me a super hard fight, and I trailed 5-3 or 5-2. But I realised what I was doing wrong, caught up and managed to get the win.

"In the semi-finals, I was losing 10-6 to the Chinese. But, during the break, the coaches told me where I needed to improve and I won (the remaining bout) 9-1."

The University of Notre Dame student also had to cope with the expectation of being the top seed at the youth Asian championship for the first time.

She said: "There was definitely pressure, but it was a good kind of pressure that motivated me. It made me excited to do well."

Her performance capped a strong showing by the Republic's women, with three finishing in the top 10. Maxine Wong and Denyse Chan were knocked out in the last eight as they finished sixth and eighth respectively at the Al-Ahliyya Amman University.

Berthier and her teammates will next turn their focus towards the World Junior and Cadet Fencing Championships in Torun, Poland, from April 6 to 19.

Beyond that, major competitions scheduled for this year include the senior Asian Championships in Tokyo from June 13 to 18, the World Championships in Budapest from July 15 to 23, and the Nov 30-Dec 11 SEA Games in the Philippines.

Her dream is to qualify for the Olympics and, while Tokyo 2020 might come a little too soon for her, good displays in the senior Asian and world meets could boost her chances.

"I'm taking it step by step and just looking at it one competition at a time," said Berthier, who is 115th in the International Fencing Federation's (FIE) senior world rankings.

"The end goal is to qualify for the Olympics and I'll do whatever it takes, but I'm just trying to focus on the competitions ahead. I haven't been competing a lot at senior-level competitions. I'm still very young, and I know I have a long way to go."

Her latest triumph comes on the back of a win for her university at the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Championships last weekend, despite being a freshman who enrolled only last September.

Before that, she had also started the year strongly, achieving three consecutive podium finishes at the Guatemala (gold), Cuba (silver) and Italy (bronze) legs of the FIE Junior World Cup.

"The (ACC) win was personally a proud achievement for me coming in as a freshman, fencing against my own teammates was hard," said Berthier, who beat her UND senior Elyssa Kleiner in the final.

"It was an extremely good confidence boost for me... The past few weeks have been very good ones and I'm really happy. I'm hoping to see if I can continue this mentality and level of performance in the next few months."