Fencing: Maiden Junior World Cup title brings birthday delight for Amita Berthier

Fencer Amita Berthier (second from right) beat Canada's Naomi Moindrot-Zilliox (right) to win the Junior World Cup. Canada's Cao Ying (left) and Chinese Taipei's Tsai Xiao-qing were the semi-final losers.
Fencer Amita Berthier (second from right) beat Canada's Naomi Moindrot-Zilliox (right) to win the Junior World Cup. Canada's Cao Ying (left) and Chinese Taipei's Tsai Xiao-qing were the semi-final losers.PHOTO: COURTESY OF UMA BERTHIER

Amita Berthier turned 17 on Friday and gave herself the perfect birthday present a day later when she became the first Singaporean fencer to win a Junior World Cup title at the Havana leg in Cuba.

In yesterday's (Singapore time) foil final against Canada's Naomi Moindrot-Zilliox, Amita triumphed 15-9 to claim the gold medal and cap a stellar year.

The US-based teenager had finished second at last month's Guatemala stop - the first Singaporean to claim a podium finish at the eight-leg Junior World Cup series - and had secured a bronze medal in the cadet category at the Junior and Cadet World Championships in April.

She then reached the last 32 of the senior World Fencing Championships in July before winning gold on her debut at the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games in August.

"It's an awesome way to celebrate my birthday; it was my last competition of the year, and I got to spend some time here with some of my friends and my mum," Amita told The Straits Times over the phone yesterday after her match.

"That, along with bringing back the gold medal, were the best things I could ever ask for."

The left-handed fencer won all five matches in the poules, and beat Canada's Jane Caulfield 15-9 in the round of 16. She then overcame Venezuela's Anabella Acurero Gonzalez 15-10 in the last eight, and Chinese Taipei's Tsai Xiao-qing 15-5 in the semi-finals.

"I definitely tried to keep my calm here because in the Guatemala final, I was a bit nervous as it was my first ever final in the category and I really wanted to win," said Amita.

"In Havana I tried not to think about the gold medal but to focus on the process. It definitely helped me because I fenced freely, without worrying whether I won or lost."

Her coach Ralf Bissdorf was happy with yesterday's performance and said that his protege was "a bit ahead of schedule".

He had projected two top-eight finishes in tournaments and a year-end top-15 ranking for Amita, who moved up to the Under-20 junior category after April.

Prior to the Havana stop, she was 13th in the junior world rankings and is slated to jump to world No. 5 when the latest rankings are released today.

Despite the progress, Bissdorf remained cautiously optimistic for the 2017-18 campaign. He said: "We have to adjust the target for this season and try to keep her in the top 10. I don't think it will be a steady climb all the time; top five in the world is pretty difficult and so is every single step forward.

"All the things that we are doing right now are pretty much long-term development; we are not trying to fast-track anything because I don't think it's possible, and if you try to fast-track anyone I don't think it would be successful."

Fencing Singapore president Juliana Seow said: "This Junior World Cup win is another step in Amita's continued progression and she - along with her peers - have shown Singapore fencers can make a mark on the international stage."

Amita added: "For 2018, my focus is on the Asian Junior & Cadet Championships (next February) and to try and qualify for the Asian Games. I will work hard and look forward to the competitions in 2018."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2017, with the headline 'Maiden title brings birthday delight for Amita'. Print Edition | Subscribe