Progress comes before goals for local world champ

Sabre cadet fencing world champion Lau Ywen is in no hurry to break into the senior ranks. While she will make an attempt at Tokyo 2020, her long-term goal is the 2024 Olympics.
Sabre cadet fencing world champion Lau Ywen is in no hurry to break into the senior ranks. While she will make an attempt at Tokyo 2020, her long-term goal is the 2024 Olympics.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The label of world champion at the age of 16 sits hesitantly with national fencer Lau Ywen.

Expectations of her have skyrocketed since her historic gold medal at last month's Fencing Cadet and Junior World Championships in France but the schoolgirl refuses to get swept up with the hype.

While the desire to represent Singapore at the Olympic Games remains a life-long ambition, the teenager is in no rush.

She said: "Looking at the top fencers in the world, their peaking age is in their 20s.

"I will try to make it for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but my bigger aim is 2024.

"I'm not done with cadets (Under-17 division) yet. I can't say that just because I have achieved so much already, then it's over.

"The competition next year will be of the same magnitude, but I'm going in there with a different pressure (of defending my title)."

Nevertheless, the 1.70m-tall sabre specialist, who picked up the sport at age nine and followed in the footsteps of older sister and national fencer Ysien, is used to punching above her weight.

At the 2014 Asian Fencing Championships, she reached the quarter-finals, the best result by a Singaporean female fencer in the competition.

Months later, despite being the youngest competitor at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, she finished a creditable 12th.

She also bagged an individual bronze at last year's SEA Games on home soil.

The United World College of South-east Asia Year 10 student, who joined the national team in 2012, said: "For now, I'm not working so much on the long-term senior goals. I'm aiming more at my development.

"I don't want to jump straight into the senior circuit entirely. Growing too fast is not necessarily a great thing.

"It's good to get to the senior level quickly, but it's better to grow with people of the same age category.

"After all, the cadets are the same fencers whom I would have to face in the future too."

One area that made her stand out among her peers is her hunger to improve, noted her coach at Asgard Fencing Club David Chan, 32.

He said: "She's probably the most driven, competitive and dedicated student I've had so far."

At the recent World Championships in Bourges, France, Ywen trailed in all her bouts from the quarter-final stage onwards but recovered to win.

She scored the decisive point in the final to beat Germany's Larissa Eifler 15-14.

Ywen said: "In the past, I would feel pressure from being down. But being exposed to these competitions helped me to grow mentally stronger."

Juggling her studies - she missed about half of her classes last year - and training five times a week has not been easy and she is determined to succeed.

Added Chan, a former national fencer himself: "She has a dream and is not afraid to put 110 per cent effort towards achieving it. Yes, I definitely believe that she can get there (to the Olympics)."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2016, with the headline 'Progress comes before goals for local world champ'. Print Edition | Subscribe