MANILA - At the start of Wednesday (Dec 4), the SEA Games women’s epee final was not the match that Kiria Tikanah Abdul Rahman most wanted to win.
The 19-year-old’s goal for herself on her Games debut was to clinch at least a bronze medal and to do so she had to win a “do-or-die” quarter-final bout, which she did before going on to take the gold.
Kiria defeated home favourite Abella Haniel 15-12 at the World Trade Centre in Manila to clinch Singapore’s first Games epee title since 1989, when Choy Fong Leng won the same event.
In the final, Kiria led 13-8, only for the advantage to be cut to 13-10. But she found inspiration and assurance from her 15-14 quarter-final win over Vietnam’s Vu Thi Hong and that helped her stay composed.
Kiria said she had also led in that match, only to see her opponent catch up to tie the score.
“When she levelled to 14-all I was very angry with myself... it was so much more stressful than the final because my goal was just to get a medal, so that was a do-or-die thing for me,” she said.
“(That quarter-final) gave me the fire to fight back in the final, and not get distracted.”
On Wednesday, she silenced the home support by taking the lead early. But, as Haniel caught up, the crowd began to get behind her, cheering so loudly that, at one point, the Singaporean could not focus.
“My coach (Henry Koh) told me to do what I had to do and not focus on the score. It was scaring me because I kept seeing my opponent’s go higher while mine was stuck at 13,” Kiria recalled.
“The last two points were difficult because I had a mental block. When I hit 15, I don’t even remember what happened, the last point was a blur. I was just so relieved that the hard work over the past few months culminated in a gold medal.”
Four hours later, the significance of her accomplishment still had not sunk in.
“It feels so surreal, I haven’t actually processed it. It still feels like a normal competition day to me,” she said, chuckling. “I hope I (process the win) soon so I can get started celebrating, everyone’s asking me to treat them to a meal so I’ll start with my family first.”
Fencing Singapore high-performance manager Marko Milic never doubted the teenager’s ability to hold steady under pressure.
“She was one of the more stable fencers in the team at the Asian Games last year and she’s very perceptive and has this ability to be ready to do the best she can under pressure situations,” said the 41-year-old Serb.
“This is a good milestone for her. She’s still young and, if she can continue to be committed to training and compete overseas regularly, she can definitely get better.”