Young Elle rules the piste

14-year-old upsets epee defending champion and Olympian Kiria with three late points

The atmosphere during the SEA Games women's epee final at the My Dinh Indoor Games Gymnasium was sombre, the tension broken only by the sound of clinking blades.

With less than a minute to go in the nine-minute match, the scoreboard read: Kiria Tikanah Abdul Rahman 11 Elle Koh 9.

Then came a scream and a point - for Elle.

Previously silent for most of the final, the teenager rode the adrenaline rush with another scream and pulled back another point to level at 11-11 and force the bout into sudden death.

Her next point was again accompanied by a scream but this time, it delivered more than a point, it also gave her the gold medal at 12-11.

Her performance against defending champion, Olympian and fellow Singaporean Kiria, 21, was in stark contrast to her demeanour in her 15-14 semi-final win over Vietnam's Vu Thi Hong earlier in the day, when she shouted after every point that she won.

"I knew Kiria wouldn't shout and I wanted to maintain a level of respect - if she's not shouting, I don't want to shout back at her," said the Secondary 3 Raffles Girls' School student, who explained that Kiria was a close friend and roommate.

"But I was just caught up in the moment with the adrenaline and I just shouted."

Elle, who turns 15 in September, is one of the youngest athletes to represent Singapore at the biennial Games.

A gold medal at this year's edition had not been on her radar - even if fencing is in her blood as the daughter of Fencing Singapore president Juliana Seow and national partner coach for epee Henry Koh.

She said: "It was nerve-racking. To be honest, I didn't expect that at all. I (was prepared) to do my best and just watched what she was doing and adapted."

With her gold, Elle has already outdone her father, who claimed an individual and a team bronze at the 2003 Games, which were also held in Hanoi.

When asked if he had been torn between supporting Kiria - his trainee - and his daughter in the final, the senior Koh replied: "It's important as the coach and athlete to understand that we are a team, we do not play favourites.

"Even though one is my child, I will still tell others how to beat her. There's no favouritism."

While Elle had much to celebrate, Kiria was left to rue what might have been, saying: "I'm a bit disappointed. It's not because I lost to my teammate, but because I did not fence my best in the final."

The one-two finish bodes well for Kiria, Elle, Rebecca Ong and Victoria Lim, who are aiming for a gold in the team event next week.

Kiria said: "We've proven that Singapore is one of the strongest teams in South-east Asia and so going into the team event, we're definitely going to be one of the teams everyone wants to beat."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2022, with the headline Young Elle rules the piste. Subscribe