Fencing: Restless Amita Berthier cannot wait to get back on piste and chase Olympic dream

Singapore fencer Amita Berthier and her makeshift home gym. She had been training at the Bluegrass Fencers' Club in Lexington, Kentucky since last June after taking a gap year from her studies to focus on qualifying for Tokyo 2020.
Singapore fencer Amita Berthier and her makeshift home gym. She had been training at the Bluegrass Fencers' Club in Lexington, Kentucky since last June after taking a gap year from her studies to focus on qualifying for Tokyo 2020.PHOTO: COURTESY OF AMITA BERTHIER

SINGAPORE - For someone used to training five times a week, being stuck indoors for two weeks with her older brother Ashok is not the kind of sparring Amita Berthier had in mind when she mentions she is "itching to fence".

However, that is the situation the 19-year-old finds herself as she and her sibling serve a 14-day stay-home notice (SHN) after returning from the United States on Wednesday (March 25).

Berthier had been training at the Bluegrass Fencers' Club in Lexington, Kentucky since last June after taking a gap year from her studies at the University of Notre Dame to focus on qualifying for Tokyo 2020.

However, when the club closed from Monday as part of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Berthier decided it was prudent to return home. She was joined by Ashok, 30, who works in New York as a financial analyst.

Berthier, who was the first Singaporean fencer to win a Junior World Cup title at the Havana leg in Cuba in 2017, said: "With the Olympics also postponed to next year, and the fencing club closed, I thought it would be best to come back to Singapore.

"It is like a ghost town over there. We can't sit in the restaurants to eat, meals have to be take-out or delivery. The only things that are open are grocery stores and medical facilities and people go out only to get the necessities.

"Many athletes are disappointed to not be able to train and spar, but we understand the measures are necessary because we don't want to be in a position where we could harm ourselves or others.

"I see this as a test of how strong we are and how we are able to adapt to changes."

She has set up a mini gym that includes a treadmill and weights in the living room of a relative's vacant apartment where she is staying. She also keeps herself occupied by practising her footwork, shadow fencing, and watching fencing videos online.

 
 
 
 

The world No. 59 women's foil fencer said: "Our sport revolves around sparring so not being able to do so is really tough and we worry about how to keep our fencing stamina up.

"It's normal that people are distraught that their lives have been disrupted, but we also have to realise that our government and many other people are doing their best to help us get through these tough times.

"My teammates and I try to motivate each other through text messages, and we have had Facetime workout sessions together. And if Z Fencing (an academy she used to train at) is open after my stay-home notice ends, I will also go there to train."

Berthier will make use of this lull period to map out her path to next year's Games. She hopes to resume her studies when the new semester starts in August.

She added: "We were so close to the Asia zonal Olympic qualifiers that were to be held in South Korea in April, and we were excited to see how it works out.

"But now, there is a lot of uncertainty about the schedule. We just have to try and remain calm and stay positive. I know I have to be ready anytime we are called upon to compete again."